“Pablo Rabazar makes $28 million a year. Duane Aller makes $35 million a year. You make ten dollars an hour.” — Grand Theft Auto V
I don’t know what better way to begin an article about overpaid and underpaid players than to ridicule the fact we’re calling people making millions of dollars underpaid. There’s people reading this as they’re waiting for more people to order drinks at the bar -yes, we caught you – as someone throwing the trash out at the convenience store down the street is getting angry at one of these picks. There’s nothing better than self-depreciation, folks.
With the NFL season back and plenty of players about to get paid more money than most of us could even dream of, let’s talk contracts. Which deals are teams really regretting signing, either for simply overpaying the wrong player or for changes in philosophy, and which players are regretting being underpaid despite their efforts.
With the exception of one fairly obvious player who comes in as an honorable mention,none of these players will be free agent signings from this past offseason, though contract extensions would be eligible. In addition, no rookie contracts are eligible, because that is a copout and shame on you for thinking we were going to list Marcus Mariota as underpaid in his third season.
If you’re ready to join us in wishing we had the type of money these players have, let’s do this.
16. Honorable Mention: Team/Player: Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears
Everyone has beaten the Mike Glennon-Bears partnership to death on both sides, but we’re putting it as an honorable mention for one reason and one reason only: we have no idea how the Mitchell Trubisky era will go. Would we hate on this contract if John Fox believes Trubisky to be the answer at first but then replaces him with Glennon, who then does his best 2013 Josh McCown impression and nearly leads the Bears to a playoff berth?
Was Mike Glennon overpaid to begin with? Sure, but it is way, way too early to know what’s going to happen, which is also why there’s no 2017 free agent signings in the main list. Terrelle Pryor may have been underpaid and Calais Campbell may have been overpaid at first glance, but we don’t know what’s to come. Now, onto the real list…
15. Team: Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
In the grand scheme of things, Muhammad Wilkerson’s five-year, $86 million contract extension last summer – and the $53 million guaranteed that came with it – made sense after the former first-rounder 28 combined sacks in the past three years; and, my hopeful optimism in place, I do think there’s a chance Wilkerson can regain his previous form after struggling in his return from a broken leg. Optimism!
However, this contract looks awful for the Jets right now because of their rebuilding state, one that has seen them cut ties with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and any signs of competence at the quarterback position. I wouldn’t call Wilkerson untradable, but it’s going to be hard to get rid of that deal the same way it’ll be hard keeping him around in a time of rebuilding. Oh, Jets…
14. Player: Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Foster may one of the more surprising picks on this list and we’re only at the first underpaid player, so we’re in for a fun time. One of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ more dependable veteran offensive lineman, Foster didn’t surrender a sack in 14 starts last year and was ranked second at left guard – only behind Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda, a perennial All-Pro and potential Hall of Famer – according to Pro Football Focus.
“He’s been putting people on their a**,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said last year. “He’s underrated and underpaid. … He never gets that credit because he’s an undrafted. But he’s 100 starts in. He’s a helluva guard. Ask other guards around the league.”
13. Team: Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs
When the Kansas City Chiefs gave Justin Houston a six-year, $101 million contract in July 2015, anyone who said the deal was a mistake was lying through their teeth. Houston had totaled 43 sacks in the past three seasons – including 22 in 2014, a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record (because of how Strahan broke the record, some believe Houston’s total to be the record) – but a torn ACL later that year and rust last season make us worry what the future is for this All-Pro linebacker.
When a pass-rusher who thrives off speed and awareness tears an ACL, you’re immediately faced with a problem. When that player comes back and looks lost for most of the season (Hosuton had four sacks last season, but three came in week 12 against the Denver Broncos), you have bigger problems. If Houston struggles again this year, would the Chiefs consider eating the leftover money and cutting him?
12. Player: Bilal Powell, New York Jets
Really, we think Bilal Powell is simply regretting re-upping with the Jets…well, that’s part of our reasoning. In a way, Powell signing for three years and $11.25 million ($6 million guaranteed at signing) was the perfect contract for both sides, but I can’t help but think Powell is still a bit underpaid.
In the past four years, Powell has averaged 831 yards from scrimmage per 16 games and totaled 468 rushing yards on 4.6 yards per carry, not at all bad for a change-of-pace running back; those numbers aren’t as inflated as one would think from his 722 rushing yards, 5.5 yards-per-carry season last year, as Powell still averaged 4.1 yards-per-rush and 725 yards per scrimmage per 16 games. Not bad! Is he being underpaid? Sure, but at least Jets fans know what they’re getting from Powell in a likely dark 2017 season…
11. Team: NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
Like Muhammad Wilkerson and his long-term deal with the Jets, NaVorro Bowman’s four-year, $42 million contract extension from last year while the guy still had three years left on his old deal (!!!!!!) isn’t so much a reflection on him as it is his team and their current mentality. I’ll be the first to admit re-signing Bowman for four more years when he was already locked in for another three didn’t make the least bit of sense, but we now know for good that the 49ers are in a rebuilding period.
Are they sure they want to keep paying a linebacker who has missed 28 of the 49ers’ last 48 games – with a torn ACL and a torn Achilles respectively – the big bucks? Bowman is still only 29 and was an All-Pro as recently as 2015, but does he have anything left in the tank? Make sure to keep an eye on the 49ers this year…
10. Player: Whitney Mercilus, Houston Texans
Is it possible to be underpaid on a defense that also features J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney? Well, if there’s a case to be made, look no further than veteran Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus, only making $6.5 million this season after ranking 20th among all pass-rushers with 29.5 quarterback pressures last season. Mercilus signed a four-year, $26 million contract in May 2015 ($10.7 guaranteed at signing) and his average annual value is barely in the top 40 of pass-rushers. What gives?
Danny Kelly of The Ringer named Mercilus his most underpaid Texan earlier this year and most people seemed to agree, with BatteredRedBlog writing, “Whether it’s the teaching of [Texans defensive coordinator] Mike Vrabel or simple growth as a professional, Whitney Mercilus has been fantastic and is undoubtedly one of the best bargains in the entire league.” Amen.
9. Team: Tyrone Crawford, Dallas Cowboys
“Daniel Jeremiah, our resident scout at NFL Media, compared Crawford to a poor man’s Ndamukong Suh after watching Crawford on film. He uses brute strength to push the pocket back, especially against the pass. After watching Crawford’s 2014 snaps on Game Rewind, we were also impressed by his quickness. Crawford often leaned on an opponent all game, who then became susceptible to his inside moves:” — Gregg Rosenthal on Tyrone Crawford in June 2015.
Yeah, the past couple of years haven’t been fun for Crawford, now the Cowboys’ resident overpaid player with after signing a five-year, $45 million contract (with $25.7 guaranteed!!!!) following that excellent 2014 season. But wait, you say, Crawford looked decent at times last year! Two of his total 4.5 sacks came against the Cleveland Browns! Is that really what Jerry Jones is paying for?
8. Player: Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys
You had to have figured Cole Beasley was going to wind up on this list, right? When I would joke during the Dallas Cowboys’ run to the NFC Divisional Game that Beasley would be the number one receiver on the Kansas City Chiefs, even I didn’t see this type of production coming up. As one of the seemingly few mainstays for the Cowboys over the past few years, Beasley has gone from valuable slot receiver to extremely underrated and underpaid.
How is a veteran averaging 51 catches, 539 yards, four scores, and catching at least 70 percent of the balls thrown his way per year only making $3.4 million per year? More importantly, is Beasley on his way to becoming the next Wes Welker? That, folks, will be an important storyline to watch in Dallas this year…
7. Team: Clay Matthews III, Green Bay Packers
It’s probably not a good sign for linebackers that Clay Matthews and Justin Houston, two of the top three paid players at that position in 2017, are on this list. While there is at least some hope for Houston, I don’t know if the same can be said for Matthews, whose 2017 cap hit is just over $15 million despite reduced production and of late.
Though Matthews is only two years removed from posting an absolute value of 12, he’s posted double-digits only once in the past four years after reaching that mark three times in his first four seasons. With Julius Peppers heading back to Carolina and the veteran Ahmad Brooks signing with the Packers in late August, the pressure is on for Matthews to perform well in 2017…and to show the Packers didn’t make a mistake signing him long-term.
6. Player: Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints
This one I really, really don’t understand, especially when we’re talking about the New Orleans Saints. For the most part, this has been an organization that has rewarded key players and leaders in the Sean Payton era, but veteran tackle Zach Strief is still only making $1.7 million this year? Drew Brees’ right tackle since 2011 and a member of the Saints since 2006, Strief has earned a position grade of 81.5 or higher every year from Pro Football Focus but once (a 67.5 mark in 2012) with a career-best 96.5 Pass Blocking Efficency in 2016.
5. Team: Vinny Curry, Philadelphia Eagles
Why do I get the feeling this was another of Chip Kelly’s brilliant moves – wait, the Eagles re-signed Curry to a five-year, $47.5 million deal in 2016 with $23 million of that guaranteed? Are Eagles fans alright with this move?
“Curry still has a lot to prove if we’re being honest. It’s going to be difficult for him to hide considering the high price tag that he carries,” FanSided’s Geoffrey Knox wrote earlier this year. “His coaches seem to be satisfied with him. They’re all in agreement that he’s developing nicely.”
But after five years in the league, there has to be a time where you put a limit on development, right? By year six as a second-round pick, you should not only be starting, but showing that you belong. The time for development has to have come and gone by this point, so I’m not sure why the Eagles stick with Curry.
4. Player: Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Regardless of how much you hate Tom Brady or Bill Belichick, you really have to feel for Julian Edelman. We’re not only talking about him being underpaid (after all he’s done in the past four seasons since becoming the full-time starter, how was he only given a two-year, $11 million contract extension by the Patriots??), but his torn ACL during the preseason; even with the $9 million guaranteed through 2019, what’s to stop Bill Belichick from doing what the Hoodie does best and get rid of Edelman next offseason?
No, you’re crazy, that wouldn’t happen! What makes you think that Edelman’s safe coming off a torn ACL and missing an entire season on a team which exemplifies the “Next Man Up” mantra to perfection year in and year out? If I’m Edelman right now, I’m more worried about being traded to the Rams than I am my ACL…
3. Team: Brooks Reed, Atlanta Falcons
How is Brooks Reed still making over $4 million a year when he doesn’t do anything to help the Atlanta Falcons? I know that may sound extremely harsh, but I watch his film, I look at the stats, and I see someone that should be making $1 or $2 million, not geting paid starter money to record two sacks in two seasons for the Falcons; not even a switch to defensive end last year could help him, so what’s next for Atlanta? How much longer is Reed going to stick around for?
This is do-or-die time for Alanta, especially after their Super Bowl collapse, and it makes you wonder how short a leah Reed will be on in 2017. Would the Falcons consider eating the money midseason if he’s not producing?
2. Player: Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
To be fair, the Panthers have said multiple times they want to try extending Greg Olsen, but how is arguably the league’s best tight end per 16 games (Rob Gronkowski is the league’s best tight end, but is rarely healthy for ten games, let alone a full year) only making $7.5 million this year? We’re in the time of major salaries being handed to second-stringers and a player that is slowly but surely carving his Hall of Fame bust is underpaid that badly?
I’m not sure how much of this is on former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, but I do think this is something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. I’m still not sold on Cam Newton as a quarterback, but you’d be a fool to argue he’s not at his best when Greg Olsen is playing. Pay the man!
1. Team: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
I don’t see how you can put anyone else but Flacco here. While Joe Cool 2.0 may have been productive to start his career and did win a Super Bowl after the 2012 season, let’s not pretend he’s done anything close to earning that money. As Baltimore’s defene grew older, Flacco and the offense were supposed to carry them in a winnable AFC North, yet have only made the playoffs once since their Super Bowl win. What gives?
I understand why Flacco was paid the way he was, especially given how risky it is to draft a quarterback now with all of the various schemes they run in college, but are there people still saying, “well, I have faith Flacco will prove he’s worth nearly $25 million in 2017?”
Which player do you think is the most underpaid? Who do you think is the most overpaid or in the worst situation? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!
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