Not only did Andrew Luck just ink the biggest contract in NFL history ($140 million), he also received the most guaranteed money ever. (Hey Andrew, if you’re running short on things to do with all that money, I would be happy to take some of it off your hands. If you’re cut from the same cloth as Randy Moss and don’t write cheques, I’ll happily accept “straight cash, homey.”)
Is he worth it? Time (and Colts ticket sales) will sort that out. Currently, all we can do is look back at past deals and sort the good from the bad. I need to do something in lieu of letting the envy bloom.
While I wait for Mr. Luck to get back to me about a stipend, I want to bring some attention to the un-Lucky players out there who should be making a lot more money than they actually are.
Due to the NFL employing a hard salary cap, teams need plus-production from players near the bottom of the payroll to be successful. Take the Super Bowl XLVIII champion Seattle Seahawks as an example: Bobby Wagner, Brandon Browner, Russell Wilson, Walter Thurmond, Richard Sherman, and Malcolm Smith all accounted for less than a $1 million cap hit.
Many of them have now received their big payday, too. But, during that season, they would’ve been considered some of the most underpaid players. Skip ahead a few years, and here are the 15 most underpaid players heading into the 2016 season.
The NFL’s Most Underpaid Players
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Currently earning: $1.03 million/yr, signed through 2016
The Steelers running back is widely regarded as a top-three back in the league, yet he is far from being paid like one. Adrian Peterson is head-and shoulders above the rest of the position, making $14 million per year, but even Ezekiel Elliott, who has yet to play a professional snap, makes more than $6 million per year.
Pittsburgh is lucky that Bell is still on his rookie contract, and better make a run this year before he begins counting for at least $7 million more against their cap.
Odell Beckham Jr, WR, New York Giants
Currently earning: $2.6 million/yr, signed through 2017
Beckham’s spectacular, one-handed catch against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football in 2014 was worth more than $2.6 million, alone.
Despite missing the first-four games of his rookie campaign, the flamboyant receiver has wasted no time in propelling himself up the rankings at his position. In two seasons, he has amassed 2,755 receiving yards, and 25 touchdowns. The Giants better be ready to open up their chequebook.
Just for the record, Cecil Shorts makes $3 million.
Tyrann Mathieu, FS, Arizona Cardinals
Currently earning: $763 thousand/yr, signed through 2016
This may not last long, as the Arizona Cardinals are trying to negotiate an extension for the play-making safety. Not only will the Honey Badger soon be making top dollar for a safety, but he’s demanding to be paid as a top defender in the league.
Mathieu is coming off a terrific (though injury-shortened) second year, totalling 80 tackles and five interceptions in only 14 games. It’s crazy to think that his average salary per year is about 8.5-percent of Jairus Byrd’s.
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Currently earning: $8.39 million/yr, signed through 2017
At first glance, you’re probably wondering how more than $8 million per year amounts to “underpaid.” To put this into proper perspective, Julio Jones makes more than $14 million per season. Antonio Brown is not less than 60-percent of Julio Jones.
In fact, Antonio Brown has been statistically better than Jones in four of the five years they have both been in the league. Brown is uncoverable, and is a massive steal for the Steelers at just over $8 million per year.
Chris Harris, CB, Denver Broncos
Currently earning: $8.5 million/yr, signed through 2019
Now that you know I’m not just looking for the lowest dollar value, this one may make more sense. Harris may not be as well known as Patrick Peterson or Richard Sherman, but he consistently finds his name alongside the other elite corners in the NFL. After going undrafted in 2011, the Broncos scooped him up, and he had the luxury of studying under future Hall-of-Famer Champ Bailey. Harris is now one of the few shutdown corners remaining in the NFL.
Harris looks like an even bigger steal when you consider Josh Norman now makes $15 million per year. I’ll take the guy who is more proven for almost half the price.
Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
Currently earning: $2.53 million/yr, signed through 2017
Donald is one of the league’s best interior pass-rushers, piling up 20 sacks in his first two seasons. After being named the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, the Rams’ defensive tackle was named a First-Team All-Pro in 2015.
His $2.5 million per year is pennies when you realise that Nick Fairley makes $3 million per year.
Ryan Schraeder, RT, Atlanta Falcons
Currently earning: $2.55 million/yr, signed through 2016
Right tackles get a lot less than the guys on the left side on the line, but Schraeder definitely deserves more than $2.55 million per season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the eighth best tackle in the league (and top right tackle) last season, and voted him a First-Team All-Pro.
Lane Johnson is a bit of an outlier, making more than $11 million per season with the Eagles, but the rest of the top right tackles are still making $6 million-plus. Schraeder, at a third of the cost, is robbery.
Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
Currently earning: $4.25 million/yr, signed through 2017
Although he may not possess the raw, physical talent of the top receivers in the league, he gets open like it’s his job. Oh wait, it is his job! Well, he does it really well, anyway; pay the man, Kraft!
The true injustice: Kenny Britt makes more.
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
Currently earning: $1.34 million/yr, signed through 2017
Assuming Geno Smith doesn’t start for the Jets (quite reasonable), and Blaine Gabbert starts for the 49ers (also reasonable), Derek Carr is the second-lowest paid starting quarterback in 2016. He makes a touch more than Tyrod Taylor, but I gave Carr the honour here because he’s started two seasons as opposed to one, and his numbers were better last season. But consider this your shout-out, too, Tyrod.
As I previously mentioned, Andrew Luck is now making more than $23 million per season. Carr is making less than six-percent of that.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Currently earning: $676 thousand/yr, signed through 2017
Freeman burst onto the stage in 2015, leading the league in total touchdowns, posting back-to-back three touchdown weeks, and earning himself a spot in the Pro Bowl.
Although he outscored Adrian Peterson in fantasy last season, I am not suggesting that he deserves AP’s $14 million per year, just more than five-percent of it.
Chandler Jones, DE, Arizona Cardinals
Currently earning: $2.04 million/yr, signed through 2016
The rumours surrounding a possible suspension for substance abuse earlier this year is what many are pointing to as the reason the Patriots would trade such a young, high-calibre defensive end. Yet, he hasn’t received any sanctions and is coming off his best season, totalling 12.5 sacks (fifth in the league).
I’ll put it this way, following the conclusion of this season, Ryan Davis will no longer be making more than Chandler Jones. Who is Ryan Davis, you ask. Exactly.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Los Angeles Rams
Currently earning: $1.75 million/yr, signed through 2017
Heading into his fourth season, Ogletree is widely regarded as one of the top-ten linebackers in the league. He has accomplished this while playing out of position, due to James Laurinaitis manning the middle for the Rams. Now that Laurinaitis is gone, Ogletree will shift into the middle and have the opportunity to properly display his sideline-to-sideline ability.
He comes at about a seventh of the price of Luke Keuchly, but he’s much more than one seventh the player.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins
Currently earning: $868 thousand/yr, signed through 2017
No, Landry does not deserve elite-receiver money; but I’m sure once his next contract comes Andre Caldwell will no longer be making more money than him.
Last season, only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins caught more balls than Landry, and none of the former three had to play in Miami.
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Currently earning: $729 thousand/yr, signed through 2018
After playing a backup role for the first 11 weeks of the season, rookie David Johnson took advantage of an injury to teammate Chris Johnson. David Johnson is projected to be the Cardinals’ feature back in 2016, and will evolve into one of the league’s most versatile RBs.
The fact that he is under contract for less than a million per season until 2019 will be a massive advantage for the Super Bowl-contending Cardinals.
Kurt Coleman, FS, Carolina Panthers
Currently earning: $1.4 million/yr, signed through 2016
Coming into 2015, Coleman’s salary seemed a little generous for a free safety who struggled to maintain a starting spot in the league. However, Coleman took advantage of his opportunity in Carolina, and his salary now looks like a steal for the Panthers.
Not only did Coleman finish 2015 with seven interceptions, tied for third in the league, but he also racked-up 90 combined tackles. The rejuvenated free safety was all over the field for the NFC champion Panthers. His presence on such a dominant defense makes these numbers even more impressive, and his salary even more favorable for Carolina.