Special Report

The Most Overpaid Athletes in Pro Sports

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Every contract offered to a professional athlete is a gamble. The franchise signing the contract is hoping that the player will remain healthy and productive for the entirety of the deal, meeting or exceeding the performance expectations implied by a multi-million dollar contract. But the reality is that sometimes these blockbuster contracts turn out to be a bad deal.

Players may struggle after moving to a new team or grow complacent due to their financial security. Yet, if the contract is guaranteed, some teams will still have to pay a player millions of dollars over the course of many years, even though they are not meeting expectations. Signing a player to a bloated contract can hamstring a franchise for years, making it difficult for them to afford other quality athletes.

To determine the most overpaid athletes in pro sports, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Sports Reference data on how NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB athletes performed in the most recently completed regular season and compared that performance with their salary using data from Spotrac. Players who opted out, retired, or missed most or all of the season due to injury or illness were not considered.

The sports landscape has all but gotten back to normal after a year of uncertainty due to COVID-19. Games were moved, seasons were shortened, and fans were not allowed to watch their teams in person, not to mention many also caught COVID-19, or opted not to play because of the virus. While some athletes were able to thrive in their altered environments, others struggled. In some cases, the dip in performance could just be a blip in an otherwise sterling career. But for other players, it could be a sign of the inevitable decline that comes with age.

Many of the most overpaid athletes are former MVPs and All Stars, who are nearing the end of enormous nine-figure contracts they signed while they were in their prime. Franchises often achieve success by drafting these kinds of players and making championship runs with blossoming superstars on rookie contracts, which pay much less than veteran deals, before having to secure them with high-value long-term contracts. These are the teams that won a championship on a shoestring budget.

Click here to see the most overpaid athletes in pro sports.
Click here to see our methodology.

Source: Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

25. Paul George
> Position, team: Shooting guard, Los Angeles Clippers
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $35,450,412

Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard Paul George’s cap hit was nearly $35.5 million in the 2020-2021 NBA season, the eighth highest figure among hundreds of NBA players. He averaged 23.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists that season. The numbers look good on the surface, but George recorded 5.3 win shares throughout the season, which ranked close to 50th in the league that season.

Win shares is a metric that estimates the number of wins a player contributed to that season. Win shares are often used as a proxy for overall player performance. For context, the MVP for the 2020-2021 season, Nikola Jokic, led the NBA with 15.6 win shares. George failed to lead the Clippers into the NBA Finals after his teammate Kawhi Leonard went down with a torn ACL.


Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

24. A.J. Green
> Position, team: Wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
> 2020 cap hit: $18,171,000

A.J. Green had one of the strongest starts to a career in NFL history, making the Pro Bowl in his first seven seasons. Green missed nearly half of the 2018 campaign with a toe injury and did not play at all in 2019 following an ankle sprain he suffered in training camp.

Though Green came back and played all 16 games in 2020, his production sharply declined. He posted career lows with 523 yards and two touchdowns — not the production the Bengals were hoping for when they signed him to a one-year $18.2 million deal in 2020. Following that season, Green signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals, worth $6 million.

Source: Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

23. John Tavares
> Position, team: Center, Toronto Maple Leafs
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $11,000,000

John Tavares is one of just six NHL players that had a cap hit of at least $11 million in the 2020-2021 season. His play throughout the season, however, was not up to par with that high financial commitment.

Tavares recorded 1.1 goals per 60 minutes, his lowest rate since his rookie season over a decade prior. He played in all 56 regular season games for the Toronto Maple Leafs but suffered a concussion and knee injury in the first playoff game. Toronto would go on to lose the series to the Montreal Canadiens.

Source: Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

22. Zack Greinke
> Position, team: Starting pitcher, Houston Astros
> 2020 Salary: $35,000,000

The 2020 MLB season was an especially tough one for starting pitchers. With just 60 games in total, starting pitchers typically got only 12 starts, compared to a full season of over 30. In this shortened year, a string of bad starts can tank a season, and that is what happened to Zack Greinke of the Houston Astros.

After his first five stars, Greinke looked great, with a 1.84 ERA. In his final seven outings, however, he never made it more than six innings and gave up at least three runs in each game. By the end of the year, his ERA ballooned to 4.03 — not awful, but one of the worst of Greinke’s illustrious career, and well below the standard set by his $35 million salary.


Source: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

21. Carson Wentz
> Position, team: Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
> 2020 cap hit: $18,656,536

Carson Wentz struggled mightily in 2020 — he led the NFL with 15 interceptions and was also sacked more than any other QB, despite playing in just 12 of the 16 games. His completion percentage, passing yardage, and QB rating all dropped to career lows as well. He was eventually benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts.

Wentz’s cap hit was over $18.6 million on the fifth year option of his rookie contract and was traded in the offseason to the Indianapolis Colts.

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20. James Harden
> Position, team: Shooting guard, Houston Rockets/Brooklyn Nets
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $41,254,920

Former MVP James Harden’s 2020-2021 season got off to a rocky start — he was unhappy with the Houston Rockets and leveraged a trade. He went to the Brooklyn Nets, a team that already had two other superstars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. With three dominant players, it can be tough to play well enough to merit a $41.3 million cap hit.

Harden’s scoring dropped to 24.6 points per game, which is good, but he had averaged over 30 ppg and was the NBA’s top scorer in the three previous seasons. It may have been worth it if the Nets had won a title, but Harden struggled with a hamstring injury against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and the Nets lost that series in seven games.


Source: Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

19. Ryan Johansen
> Position, team: Center, Nashville Predators
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $8,000,000

Ryan Johansen struggled to make much of an impact in the 2020-2021 season for the Nashville Predators. He recorded just 0.5 goals and 1.1 assists per 60 minutes on the ice, both career lows in seasons in which he played the majority of games.

Nashville finished fourth in their division and were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes. The Preds opted not to protect Johansen in the NHL’s expansion draft, making him available to the newly-formed Seattle Kraken, though they are unlikely to want to take on his $8 million cap hit.

Source: Bryan Bedder / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

18. D’Angelo Russell
> Position, team: Shooting guard, Minnesota Timberwolves
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $28,649,250

In just his sixth season, former second overall draft pick D’Angelo Russell is already on his fourth NBA team, having been traded three times. Russell signed a four-year, $117.3 million contract as part of a sign and trade to go to the Golden State Warriors in July 2019. He lasted just 33 games in the Bay Area and was traded to Minnesota in February 2020.

Though his offensive stats of 19.0 points and 5.8 assists per game look good, he has consistently struggled on the defensive end and hasn’t been able to live up to his nine-figure contract. The Timberwolves finished the season as one of the worst teams in the NBA.

17. J.D. Martinez
> Position, team: Designated hitter, Boston Red Sox
> 2020 Salary: $23,750,000

The 2020 MLB season was a big adjustment for all players, and some handled it better than others. Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez struggled mightily for the entire season, posting a career-worst .213 batting average and just seven home runs in 54 games. He had never before battled below .240. He also struck out more often and walked less frequently than he had in his previous years in Boston.

Martinez didn’t help out much on the defensive end, as he was the designated hitter for nearly every game. So far in 2021, Martinez is back to his old self, batting over .300 with 19 home runs as of the All-Star Break.


Source: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

16. Stephon Gilmore
> Position, team: Cornerback, New England Patriots
> 2020 cap hit: $23,639,584

After earning defensive player of the year honors in 2019, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore had a much more difficult 2020. He was hampered by a quad injury and missed several games. Gilmore picked off six passes and broke up 20 more in 2019 — both led the NFL. In 2020, he had just one interception and three passes defensed.

It also happened that Gilmore had a cap hit of $23.6 million in 2020 as part of the five-year, $65 million deal he signed with the Pats ahead of the 2017 season. That was the 12th highest cap hit of any NFL player and the most for any player not playing QB or rushing the passer. As he recuperates from the injury, he is holding out of New England’s mandatory minicamp in the hopes of getting a raise or a contract extension.

Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

15. Miguel Cabrera
> Position, team: Designated hitter, Detroit Tigers
> 2020 Salary: $30,000,000

Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters of his generation, winning four batting titles from 2011 to 2015, as well as back-to-back MVPs in 2012 and 2013. But as he has aged into his late 30s, his production has dipped, failing to live up to the eight-year, $240 million contract he inked in 2014. His batting average slid from consistently over .300 to .250 in 2020. Since he no longer plays in the field, the value to his team is even further diminished.


Source: Harry How / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

14. LeBron James
> Position, team: Small forward, Los Angeles Lakers
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $39,219,566

Though LeBron James is still one of the best players in the NBA, he had his worst statistical season since he was a 19-year-old rookie back in 2003-2004. He averaged 25.0 points and 7.8 assists in 45 games in the 2020-2021 season — terrific for most players, but one of James’ lowest outputs of his career.

His total win shares and win shares per 48 minutes were also his lowest since his rookie season — and well below what you would expect from a player making over $39.2 million. James seemed ageless after winning his fourth championship at age 35 in 2020, but in 2021, his Los Angeles Lakers lost in the first round to the Phoenix Suns.

Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

13. P.K. Subban
> Position, team: Defenseman, New Jersey Devils
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $9,000,000

P.K. Subban established himself as one of the NHL’s best defensemen while playing in Montreal and Nashville earlier in his career. But he has struggled since being traded to the New Jersey Devils in 2019.

In the 2020-2021 season, Subban posted his worst full season statistics, even when factoring in the shortened season. He recorded just 2.0 point shares this season. For context, his peak came in the 2014-2015 season, when he posted 12.4 point shares. The Devils opted not to protect Subban in the NHL expansion draft.

Source: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

12. Albert Pujols
> Position, team: First base, Los Angeles Angels
> 2020 Salary: $29,000,000

Albert Pujols has racked up some of the most impressive career numbers of any batter in his generation. But since signing a 10-year, $240 million mega deal with the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, his batting average has consistently declined as he battled injuries.

Pujols’ batting average dipped to a career low of .224 in 2020, and he struck out in more than 15% of at bats for the first time in his 20 years in the majors. In 2021, he was released by the Angels, and picked up by the Dodgers, where his numbers have improved.


Source: Andy Lyons / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

11. Matt Duchene
> Position, team: Center, Nashville Predators
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $8,000,000

Matt Duchene recorded 0.18 goals and 0.21 assists per game in the 2020-2021 season, both career lows. He also recorded just 0.7 point shares in the 34 games he played that season — a fraction of the point shares he had in every other NHL season in his career.

Duchene was a highly-sought after free agent in 2019, but Nahville exposed him to be selected by the newly-formed Seattle Kraken in the NHL expansion draft.

Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

10. Evgeni Malkin
> Position, team: Center, Pittsburgh Penguins
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $9,500,000

In the 2020-2021 season, Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin played on the last year of an eight-year, $76 million contract that has a $9.5 million cap hit. He has been one of the best players in the NHL throughout most of his contract, but in the most recent season, he struggled to perform to his normal level due to a lingering knee injury.

Malkin scored less frequently than in any previous season and was able to play in just 33 of the Pens’ 56 games. Pittsburgh lost in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Islanders.


Source: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

9. Kemba Walker
> Position, team: Point guard, Boston Celtics
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $34,379,100

The 2021 NBA All Star game was the first one that Kemba Walker missed since 2017. The Boston Celtics star battled throughout the season with a pesky left knee injury. He struggled on the defensive end and had his lowest win shares per 48 minutes since the 2014-2015 season, as Boston endured a disappointing season.

Walker signed a four-year, $140.8 million contract ahead of the 2019 season. After the 2021 season, the Celtics offloaded his contract on to the Oklahoma City Thunder, though OKC seems likely to trade Walker elsewhere before the 2021-2022 season tips off.

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8. Jose Altuve
> Position, team: Second base, Houston Astros
> 2020 Salary: $29,000,000

Jose Altuve’s lowest full season batting average before 2020 was .290. But his production plummeted following a tumultuous 2019-2020 offseason. His Houston Astros’ cheating scandal was exposed, and the pandemic delayed the start of baseball season. The former MVP batted .219 and struck out much more frequently than ever before. For the first time in his career, Altuve posted a negative wins above replacement as his defense was well below that of the typical second baseman.

Houston certainly expected better performance when they signed him to a five-year, $151 million ahead of the 2018 season. As of the 2021 All-Star Game, his batting average was .272 — better, but still not where it used to be.

Source: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

7. Ryan Getzlaf
> Position, team: Center, Anaheim Ducks
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $8,250,000

Anaheim Ducks legend Ryan Getzlaf was in the final year of his eight-year, $66 million contract in the 2020-2021 season — his least productive season, with just 0.6 point shares. In every previous season, he had over 3.0 point shares. Getzlaf had just five goals and a dozen assists, both less than half as many as in any previous season.

He has spent his entire 16-year career with the Ducks, winning the Stanley Cup in 2007. At 35, Getzlaf has been facing speculation on his NHL future, but remains coy about whether he would retire.


Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

6. Jeff Skinner
> Position, team: Left winger, Buffalo Sabres
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $9,000,000

Throughout the 2020-2021 season, Jeff Skinner struggled on the offensive end for the Buffalo Sabres. He averaged just 0.5 goals and 0.5 assists per 60 minutes on the ice — both career lows. In 53 games, he recorded just 0.7 point shares — half the total of his next least productive season.

In the 2018-2019 season, he played in all 82 games and recorded 8.0 point shares. That offseason, Buffalo signed him to an eight-year, $72 million deal. His production has dipped significantly in the two COVID-19-shortened seasons since.

Source: Harry How / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

5. Jared Goff
> Position, team: Quarterback, Los Angeles Rams
> 2020 cap hit: $28,842,682

Jared Goff had the third highest cap hit of any NFL player in 2020, at $28.8 million. He signed a massive four-year, $134 million contract after leading the L.A. Rams to the Super Bowl in the 2018 season, but he never quite lived up to the deal.

Goff threw for 20 touchdowns and 10.7 yards per completion in 2020, both the lowest of his four full seasons as a starting QB. Goff’s approximate value — a measure of a player’s overall positive impact on his team — was nine, also his lowest as a starter. For context, MVP Aaron Rodgers had an AV of 17, and Aaron Donald led the NFL with 20. Following the 2020 season, Goff was traded to the Detroit Lions, along with two first round picks, for QB Matthew Stafford.


Source: Rocky W. Widner / NHL / Getty Images

4. Erik Karlsson
> Position, team: Defenseman, San Jose Sharks
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $11,500,000

In the 2020-2021 season, Erik Karlsson recorded 2.9 point shares in 52 games. Eight seasons earlier, he had 3.6 point shares in just 17 games. The latest season was also the first time in Karlsson’s 12-year career he recorded less than 1.0 assists per 60 minutes.

Karlsson’s $11.5 million cap hit was tied for the fourth highest in the NHL, but his 2.9 point shares ranked near the middle of the 600 NHL players with significant game time in the 2020-2021 season.

Source: Will Newton / Getty Images

3. Russell Westbrook
> Position, team: Point guard, Washington Wizards
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $41,358,814

Russell Westbrook had an enormous cap hit of nearly $41.4 million in the 2020-2021 season — tied for second-highest in the NBA with Chris Paul, behind only Steph Curry. That high of a cap hit can be difficult to live up to, even for a superstar like Westbrook. Though he averaged a triple double in the 2020-2021 season, his first with the Washington Wizards, he turned the ball over more often than in recent years and saw both his scoring and shooting percentage decline significantly.

Westbrook was not named an All Star for the first time in seven years. The Wizards made the playoffs, despite their 34-38 record. They lost in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Source: Justin Casterline / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

2. Jacoby Brissett
> Position, team: Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
> 2020 cap hit: $21,375,000

Jacoby Brissett was slated to be a backup QB behind Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. When Luck retired abruptly during the preseason, Brissett was thrust into the starting job and given a two-year, $30 million contract to match his status as a starting NFL QB. The contract was back loaded to make his cap hit $21.4 million in 2020, the 19th highest cap hit for that season.

After one season as the starter, Indy signed Philip Rivers, making Brissett the backup again. Yet Brissett did play in 11 games, taking snaps certain in goal line and other specific scenarios — playing enough to qualify for this list, but not enough to make a major difference for his team. After the 2020 season he signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Miami Dolphins to back up Tua Tagovailoa.


Source: Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images

1. John Wall
> Position, team: Point guard, Houston Rockets
> 2020-2021 cap hit: $41,254,920

John Wall had a cap hit of $41.3 million during the 2020-2021 season but struggled on the court, making him the most overpaid athlete in pro sports. His cap hit was tied for the fourth highest in the NBA, but he had negative win shares — indicating that he hurt the Houston Rockets more than he helped them while on the court.

Wall shot just 40.4% from the floor, the lowest percentage of his career. His assists and rebounds per game also fell to career low levels. Wall’s season went from bad to worse when a hamstring injury ended his season in late April. He played in only 40 games. Wall is set to earn over $91 million over the next two seasons.


To determine the most overpaid athletes in pro sports, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Sports Reference data on how NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB athletes performed in the most recently completed regular season and compared that performance with their salary using data from Spotrac. Players who opted out, retired, or missed most or all of the season due to injury or illness were not considered.

To evaluate the overall quality of a player, we reviewed approximate value for NFL players, point shares for NHL players, win shares for NBA players, and wins above replacement for MLB players. To evaluate compensation, we reviewed each player’s salary cap hit in the NHL, NBA, and NFL. For the MLB, we reviewed payroll salaries.

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