Money is a highly attractive and controversial topic when integrated with the sports world,  especially when we are referring to the incredibly popular NFL. Interestingly enough, it seems as if the NBA has really brought the most attention to the eyes of the public when it comes to handling money with superstar athletes, and players like James Harden signing a four-year contract that could potentially amount to $228 million.

NFL players aren’t quite making that type of money (much to their chagrin) and yet handling contracts in the NFL becomes much more difficult with a number of players on a roster, and the goal of maintaining a core.

Sometimes with NFL athletes, signing players to certain deals and paying them certain amounts of money isn’t always affiliated with on-field success—as we will observe in a moment. As a result, fan bases can be disgruntled with management decisions to overpay for players that really haven’t done much, but the field of options is often so weak that they may not have a choice.

Today, we will observe players that have been inserted into situations where their pay simply isn’t what fans believe it should be, based off on-field performance. However, we will also take note of the contracts of players who have demonstrated excellence on the field and have been leaders and necessary pieces for the success of their respective franchise.

As we dive further into this dynamic of money paid to NFL players, TheSportster brings you 8 NFL Players Who Deserve Their $10 Million Contract And 7 Who Don’t.

15. J.J. Watt (Deserves It) – $10,500,000

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If you discredit the money J.J. Watt is earning for Houston (and maybe more importantly how much of a contributor he has been to the success of the Texans), your level of credibility will likely plummet down the drain of the football world. Since he joined Houston, the Texans have finished top-3 in yards allowed in three of his six NFL seasons. Watt has recorded over 75 sacks in just six years and has undoubtedly become one of, if not the most dominant defensive player the league has to offer. Even off the field, Watt has become a symbol of the franchise, made them a relevant conversation for analysts to discuss as Super Bowl contender, and has engaged with a fan base that is hungry for success.  Even if he has yet to deliver them a title, there’s only so much a defensive lineman can do to lead a team to victory at the biggest stage (a capable quarterback would help).

14. Janoris Jenkins (Doesn’t Deserve It) – $12,900,000

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the solid play of Janoris Jenkins in 2016—one that resulted in his first pro bowl appearance—Jenkins is in no place to be a top-3 paid cornerback in the NFL. Jenkins has shown flashes of on field success over the years, racking up 13 interceptions in five seasons, but his play was never affiliated with the top cornerbacks in the league. I’m sorry, but Janoris Jenkins and his playoff-less days in St. Louis shouldn’t warrant a nearly $13 million base salary for 2017. The fact that he places ahead of Richard Sherman, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Patrick Peterson, shows that certain teams—namely the Giants—have no problem forking out big money if they feel a certain market is running dry (cornerbacks).

13. Larry Fitzgerald (Deserves It) – $11,000,000

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

If anyone on this list deserves the money he is currently receiving, it’s Larry Fitzgerald.  What has to be understood about Fitzgerald, is the fact that he is one of the best individuals that is currently playing in the NFL. You’ll never see Fitzgerald disrespect another opponent, even if a cornerback opposite of him is mouthing off (Richard Sherman…). While the Ochocinco’s and Terrell Owens of the world are as entertaining as can be when a player as consistently great as Fitzgerald shows up and doesn’t dance or celebrate when he continues to find incredible success—like leading 2016 receivers in receptions—the level of respect for Larry Fitzgerald goes through the roof. The game has somewhat transitioned back to some of those Ochocinco-Owens days with the flash and celebrations, but that’s what makes Fitzgerald’s mentality so appealing to hardcore NFL fans.

12. Malik Jackson (Doesn’t Deserve It) – $13,500,000

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Jackson had a solid 2015 season that was capped off in the best of ways; a Super Bowl championship.  Following that season, Jackson hit it big with a contract in Jacksonville, but the money he received didn’t seem very well deserving based off his resumé. Only one defensive lineman in the league earns more off a base salary than Malik Jackson (Muhammad Wilkerson) and that was after he had recorded over 30 sacks and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl (over the course of his career). Malik Jackson has yet to hit either of those marks, so clearly, Jacksonville feels that he will hit numbers similar to those within a couple of years, or they felt the need to overpay in order to acquire young talent.  Regardless, Jackson receiving that type of money is undeserving based on his numbers and accolades.

11. Aaron Rodgers (Deserves It) – $12,550,000

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Putting a player like Aaron Rodgers on this list is a no-brainer. What would be more shocking, is if he didn’t have the highest base salary on Green Bay (that isn’t the case).  Rodgers has presented his incredible quarterbacking talents in all ways that are humanly possible. He has done it at such a high level, that many consider him maybe not only the best quarterback in the league today but perhaps ever. A lot of that talk is affiliated with the pure abilities of Rodgers to both be an ultra-efficient runner and passer at the quarterback position, but his numbers could back up this discussion in the years to come.  For now though, if you had to pay 1 NFL quarterback at least $10 million dollars a year for the next five years, I don’t see how you pick anyone other than Aaron Rodgers.

10. Sam Bradford (Doesn’t Deserve It) – $14,000,000

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Bradford begins the most mind boggling list of quarterbacks who are earning this type of money. We all know what Bradford was capable of in his college days at Oklahoma, and perhaps a lot of bad coaching was to blame for his poor play in St. Louis, but none of it came close to allowing Bradford to make $14 million a year. Sure, Bradford played well in 2016 with his 20 touchdowns and five interceptions campaign, but even if he put up a TD-int ratio like that every year of his career, he still wouldn’t crack my top-5 quarterback list in the NFL (heck, probably even top-10). Bradford doesn’t have the killer mentality to win games that other quarterbacks possess. His lack of aggression in down field throwing has become his downfall, and it showed last year, which makes the money he is currently earning all the more shocking.

9. Russell Wilson (Deserves It) – $12,600,000

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you want about the dominant Legion of Boom and Marshawn Lynch over Seattle’s run of recent success, Russell Wilson is deservedly the highest paid player on Seattle. The fact that he still has been able to string together 10 win seasons without a real viable running game tells fans all they need to know. Wilson is an absolute necessity to Super Bowl contention for the Seahawks, and his play has the potential of only getting better with more years of experience under his belt.  Plus, if the offensive line and the offensive system Seattle is running doesn’t improve soon, Wilson could be using that money for some injury repairs. Fortunately, Wilson’s value applies in that area as well, as he has progressively gotten better at releasing the ball before players reach him—a quality we all know Tom Brady mastered as well….

8. Brock Osweiler (Doesn’t Deserve It) – $16,000,000

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

I think that whenever I think of Brock Osweiler, I will always look back on the press conference he had with the Texans after leaving Denver. There was so much hope and promise with his new beginning in Houston.  He had a great defense, a young, talented receiving corp, and hungry coaching staff and fan base to support him on his road to success. The fact that all of that fell apart within one season is remarkable, and now Osweiler is standing as the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns; oh how times can change. I haven’t even mentioned his base salary of $16 million, which makes all of us football fans marvel at the world of sports contracts. Normally I would wish a quarterback like Osweiler luck in his future endeavors, but his money situation appears well addressed.

7. Drew Brees (Deserves It) – $13,000,000

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The fact that Brees brought the city of New Orleans a Super Bowl only a couple of years removed from Hurricane Katrina, already makes him deserving of his base salary. When you add that Super Bowl title to the fact that Brees could very easily break more passing records before he retires, there isn’t much of an argument here. What maybe makes Brees most deserving of his money, is the fact that he has been a constant for New Orleans for about a decade. Brees is the first name people think of when they discuss the New Orleans Saints, and for good reason. The only unfortunate part about discussing Brees’ legacy with the black and gold, is how lost they may be when he eventually retires.

6. Trumaine Johnson (Doesn’t Deserve It) – $16,742,400

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Astonishingly, this is the second cornerback on this list who played for the Rams within the last two years.  What’s even more unexpected? You would think that with two of the NFL’s current top 3 paid cornerbacks (base salary) the Rams would have been more effective in stopping the pass together, but they only finished in the top-10 in passing defense one time (#10 in 2016). Of course, the Rams placed Johnson under the franchise tag for the 2017 season, so in reality, he would not get paid this amount if he were under regular contract circumstances. Still, I’m a bit shocked the Rams didn’t opt to go in another direction with Johnson, given the strong possibility that he is likely to leave the Rams in a year anyway. I don’t see a reason for LA to hold on to a player like this for so much money that won’t produce in the future, especially when they already have such a young core.

5. Philip Rivers (Deserves It) – $14,000,000

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Philip Rivers is the one quarterback in today’s game that is the rarest of situations for starters.  Unlike the other well-known starters from the 2000’s era (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, etc.) Rivers has yet to win a Super Bowl, let alone reach the big game. With the AFC West as hard as it currently is, Rivers may never even see the playoffs again, but the Chargers have a talented squad that could definitely sneak a place in the AFC playoffs. Nobody should be complaining about Rivers earning the money he currently is with the Chargers. The man has done great things for his team over the years and simply hasn’t had a unit around him that has been up to the standards of the beginning of his starting career.  Rivers would gladly trade this money for a title, but his success over the years renders him deserving of both.

4. Ryan Tannehill (Doesn’t Deserve It) – $17,975,000

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I almost want to let out a sigh before I dig into Ryan Tannehill’s base salary. 2017 was to be his first year of his four-year $77 million contract, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. A torn ACL has gotten in the way, and now Jay Cutler will trot out on the field for the Dolphins come September. The Dolphins really expected big things out of Tannehill for the next couple of years (obviously in part due to the contract extension) but the fact that he never posted a winning season until 2016 goes to show the lack of faith management must have had in acquiring another capable future quarterback. As a result, Tannehill’s nearly $18 million base salary in 2017 will make any fan sick to their stomach for a player that isn’t even going to play—and one has to wonder if playing would have even made a difference against their AFC East rivals the New England Patriots.

3. Matt Ryan (Deserves It) – $15,750,000

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

After the Atlanta Falcons 2016 season(including the postseason) you have to give Matty Ice his props. The man played out of his mind, and efficiently torched a multitude of great defensive units.  The plethora of weapons that he had at his disposal didn’t hurt, but you have to have a captain of the ship, and Ryan led the way for a memorable year in Atlanta Falcons football history (to say the least).  He absolutely deserves to have a top-5 quarterback base salary in 2017, and we all wouldn’t be surprised if he comes close or even surpasses the MVP year he had in 2016. Of course, repeating the success he experienced is difficult, and defensive coordinators aren’t stupid, but his arsenal of talent is still at full-strength and although the NFC South arguably got better, the Ryan and the Falcons are primed for another go at the Super Bowl.

2. Kirk Cousins (Doesn’t Deserve It) – $23,943,600

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

I understand that Kirk Cousins is earning this money based purely off of the franchise tag, but wow, that’s a lot for one year. To be completely honest, Kirk has played well enough in the past two years to grant himself a worthy contract, but the Redskins haven’t exactly been willing.  Like I said, a worthy contract, NOT $23 million (nearly $24 million). That type of money should be reserved for a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady-like figure, not a two-year starter who hasn’t established a winning legacy. To be honest, probably nobody deserves to make that much over 1 season, simply because of the lack of flexibility it gives a franchise, but alas, the franchise tag is what it is. If Cousins doesn’t play another year for Washington after 2017, he should still be content with what he accomplished, both on the field and in the financial game.

1. Von Miller (Deserves It) – $17,000,000

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Von Miller could go down as the best pass rusher the NFL has ever seen, and that’s a statement that can be very well supported. Miller has maybe the most talented defense in the league to back him up and make him look even better throughout the course of the game. Also, he already has a Super Bowl ring and has yet to complete a full 16 game season without chalking up at least 10 sacks. Those type of numbers over an extended period of time add up, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Much to the dismay of Raiders, Chiefs and Charger fans, Denver knows which player they should be paying the big bucks, and he’s still hungry for quarterbacks. When a player like Miller starts roughing up Tom Brady, you know he is the real deal, and that reputation will be enhanced to a legendary level if he can ever break the single-season or all-time sack records.

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