Professional athletes have it pretty good. While they generally work their tails off, they are compensated quite well for what they do. But just like in any other line of work, there are those that earn their paychecks and there are those that don’t. Almost every workplace has that worker who earns a higher salary but doesn’t have the same work ethic and productive output as others that earn less and contribute more. This is especially true in professional sports where athletes are often compensated for past greatness. Many athletes have the uncanny ability to have a career year just as their current contract is expiring.
Many people argue that athletes are grossly overpaid in the first place and it is hard to dispute the point. It is hard to accept that Alex Rodriguez is pulling in $21 million this year when we consider he is batting a paltry .206 and has just nine homers. Of course, paying Mark Teixeira over $23 million for his dismal .190 batting average is even worse. Still, for every Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira who are clearly overpaid, there are players like Jose Altuve and DJ LeMahieu who are producing far beyond their paygrades.
Let’s take a look at Top 15 NFLers Who Aren't Paid What They Should Be.
15 Marcus Mariota
Starting off the list, we have Marcus Mariota, who is coming off an outstanding rookie campaign. The 2015 second overall pick out of Oregon gave long-suffering Titans fans something to cheer about. He completed 62.2% of his passes and threw for 2,818 yards in his 12 starts. His 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions earned him a 91.5 passer rating. He also rushed for two touchdowns. These numbers would definitely improve if he had a bit more protection, but these things can be improved upon.
The Titans must love what they are seeing out of the rising star and they must also be happy with the fact that Mariota is making a mere $5.5 million in the upcoming 2016 season. This has got to be one of the best bargains in pro football. Assuming he keeps developing, Marcus Mariota will be one of the most underpaid young players at his position for the next few years.
14 Jonathan Stewart
He’s an eight year veteran who is just coming off of his first Pro Bowl appearance so there is no question that Jonathan Stewart is a talented player. The gifted running back was instrumental in helping his Carolina Panthers reach the Super Bowl this past season. He had a terrific game in the Panthers’ playoff win against Seattle. Still, some football fans are asking how Stewart deserves to be the second-highest paid running back in the NFL.
It’s true that when this former first round draft pick out of Oregon is on his game, he can juke, jive, and Mambo Number 5 with the best of them, but he has only rushed for 1,000 yards once in his career and that was seven years ago. He is coming off a 2015 season that saw him rush for 989 yards and six touchdowns, although he missed some playing time due to a foot injury. Still, his 4.1 yards per carry is pretty pedestrian compared to other running backs, but $9.5 million is a hefty price to pay for running back these days.
13 Brock Osweiler
Alright, this one is a little speculative, but until proven otherwise, Brock Osweiler’s $12 million salary seems a little excessive, although not outrageously excessive. He undoubtedly showed that he can play the game when he filled in for an “injured” Peyton Manning in 2015. He led the Broncos to a 5-2 record in his starts but his numbers weren’t extraordinary. A 61.8% completion rate, 10 touchdowns, a nd a rating of 86.4 are not stats to sneeze at. He showed that he is ready for prime time but is he really deserving of such a big paycheck?
Life is going to be a little different for Brock when he goes under center in Houston. While he will have DeAndre Hopkins to target, he won’t have as many options as he did in Denver. He also won’t have the same level of support from the Texans running game. Houston fans certainly hope that Osweiler will earn his pay.
12 Pierre Garcon
Just how does a wide receiver with just a single 1,000-yard season in an eight-year career deserve to be paid on the same scale as the best receivers in the game? Well, we would need to ask the Redskins’ front office. Pierre Garcon is a good receiver but definitely not deserving of being the 12th highest paid at his position. To top it off, he has never caught more than six touchdowns in a season.
Sure, Garcon is capable of making some highlight reel receptions, but his $10.2 million salary is a little hard to justify. Of course, it’s not like the Redskins don’t have a history of overpaying some of their players. His 777 receiving yards ranked him 45th and his 163 YAC is well below mediocre for a guy that was targeted 110 times last year.
For the kind of money that Pierre Garcon is earning, Redskins fans deserve a lot more production.
11 Julius Thomas
Julius Thomas really broke out with the Denver Broncos during the 2013 season with 788 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He followed that up with another 12 TD season in 2014. When the Broncos cut him loose, the Jacksonville Jaguars were quick to sign him to a 5-year, $46 million contract. This makes Julius Thomas the 5th highest-paid tight end in the NFL tied with Kyle Rudolph.
Unfortunately for Thomas, and even more unfortunate for the Jags, the explosive tight end’s first season with Jacksonville was marred by injuries. He still played in 12 games but his production dropped off. This was especially true in the touchdown department where he only registered five. We can’t pin the blame on Blake Bortles either. The Jaguars' quarterback managed to throw for 4,428 passing yards and 35 touchdowns.
Jaguar fans hope that they see a healthy Julius Thomas have a bounce back 2016 season and prove that he is worth his $7.3 million salary.
10 Jordan Cameron
After making a name for himself in Cleveland, Jordan Cameron signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Miami Dolphins heading into the 2015 season. In a familiar story, after netting the big pay day, the 6’5” tight end saw a sharp decline in production. The Dolphins were obviously hoping for more than 386 receiving yards and a three touchdowns. After all, any team would have certain expectations out of the 4th highest paid tight end in the NFL.
Cameron will be in the final year of his contract in the 2016 season, so it will be interesting to see whether he can justify his salary. If his season is similar to his 2015 campaign then it’s safe to say that his next contract will be considerably smaller. If he can return to the guy that NFL saw flashes of dominance from in previous years, Jordan Cameron might continue to rank among the highest paid tight ends in the league.
9 Tom Brady
Not deserving your paygrade doesn’t always mean that you’re overpaid. Sometimes it means that you are underpaid like Tom Brady. After yet another 4,000+ passing yard season with 30+ touchdowns, the 38-year-old superstar continues to get the job done on every level. He finished 3rd in passing yards, 4th in passer rating among starters, and he led the league in touchdowns. Yet, the four-time Super Bowl champion ranked 18th when it comes to annual cap hit. While $14 million a year isn’t exactly poverty wages, it definitely is not in line with other quarterback salaries.
Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, and Kirk Cousins are just a few quarterbacks that are earning more. Really? Jay Cutler? Well, don’t feel too sorry for old Tom because after recently restructuring his contract, he still stands to make quite a lot more. The new structure will also give the Patriots the needed flexibility to keep some of their other high-players around.
8 Blake Bortles
Blake Bortles is one of the best bargains in the NFL and he is mired in the mess known as the Jacksonville Jaguars. Having thrown for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015, the 6’5” quarterback out of Central Florida was one of the bright spots in an otherwise depressing Jacksonville lineup. Despite his top ten-type numbers, Blake’s salary is a mere pittance by NFL standards. He is making a lowly $5.6 million per year which ranks him 25th in the league among quarterbacks.
In 2016, he will be entering the third year of his four-year rookie contract. If he keeps playing at his 2015 level, Blake Bortles will become a household name and he will also be in for one heck of a raise. He just needs to cut down on his interceptions and boost his completion percentage a bit. Until then, he will be seen as a guy that clearly doesn’t deserve his pay grade.
7 Ezekiel Ansah
In 2015, Ezekiel Ansah was 3rd in the league with 14.5 sacks, tied for 2nd overall with 4 forced fumbles, and registered 47 tackles. The 27-year-old defensive end was also selected to the Pro Bowl. The Detroit Lions have to be happy with what they are seeing out of their up-and-coming star. They are probably even happier that they are getting such a high-caliber impact player for a mere $5.9 million per year after exercising their option on Ansah.
Ezekiel’s salary in comparison to his production makes him a player who doesn’t deserve his pay grade. He is definitely worth a lot more but he will have to wait until 2018 to cash in on a bigger contract. If he maintains his current level of play, Ansah will be sought after by many teams which will bolster his potential earnings. Look for Ezekiel to become one of the higher paid defensive linemen in the NFL.
6 Todd Gurley
It’s understandable that rookies aren’t exactly breaking the bank. They need to prove themselves for a few years before they can shake off their rookie contracts and ink the big contract. So far, LA Rams running back Todd Gurley appears to be headed for a big payday after the 2019 season when his rookie deal ends. The young standout was a Pro Bowler in his 2015 rookie campaign. He finished the season with 1,106 rushing yards which placed him 3rd among running backs. He also found the end zone 10 times. He did all of this in just 13 games.
He has played well above what his contract pays him. With a salary of $3.14 million, he outplayed several of his peers that are making millions more. The Rams drafted well when they made their 2015 first round selection. They chose a guy who is proving to be working way above his pay grade.
5 Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan is coming off one of his worst seasons ever but the 31-years-old Falcons quarterback has plenty of time to get back on track. In 2015, the ex-Boston College standout threw for just 21 touchdowns which is the lowest total since his rookie campaign. He also threw 16 interceptions which tied him for 3rd highest total in the league and his 89.0 passer rating was pretty pedestrian. This doesn’t mean that he’s a bad quarterback. It’s quite the opposite. He still managed to finish the season with a very respectable 4,591 passing yards which ranked him 5th in the league.
With most of his numbers trending down, Matt Ryan’s paycheck is moving in the opposite direction. He earned a cool $19.5 million in 2015 and he will make an additional $4.25 million in 2016 and 2017. For a guy that appears to be regressing, $23.75 million seems like a bit of an overpayment. Unless he can improve on his production, Matt Ryan does not deserve his pay grade.
4 Drew Brees
It would be totally unfair to say that Drew Brees is not deserving of being paid top dollar. He has had an excellent career and he continues to play at a high level. He has thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of his past 10 seasons and tossed over 30 touchdowns in each of the past eight seasons. He is still undoubtedly one of the top quarterbacks in the league today.
It would not be too far off the mark to say that Drew Brees deserves to be the highest-paid player but making nearly $6 million more than the runner-up is a little over the top. Keep in mind that he is entering the final year of his massive contract and he will likely not see such an outrageous paycheck when he signs a new one. With a $30 million salary due in the 2016 season, Drew Brees does not deserve his pay grade. Just to clarify, no NFL player deserves that pay grade.
3 Ndamukong Suh
Granted, this guy is a force. Love him or hate him (most hate him), Miami’s 320-pound defensive lineman is beyond intimidating. He might have some character issues but he certainly doesn’t have money issues. After signing a ridiculously lucrative contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2015, Suh became one of the highest-paid players in the game. The 2016 season will see him earn $12.6 million but it is in the following seasons that Suh will be earning significantly more. His earnings will peak at $28.1 million in 2019.
Miami hopes that their semi-psychopathic centerpiece has a better 2016 season. His numbers from 2015 weren’t exactly awe-inspiring which was reflected in Miami’s less than stellar defensive performance in 2015. The Dolphins would love to see him improve on his six sacks and they would definitely like to see him among the leaders in other categories besides salary. It’s time for him to play up to potential and earn his money.
2 Colin Kaepernick
When discussing quarterbacks whose careers seem to be headed for the dumpster, Colin Kaepernick is sure to come up. The struggling 49ers quarterback stumbled greatly in 2015 and he has been the subject of recent trade rumors. The thing is, other teams don’t seem to want anything to do with him and his $15.9 million salary. This is the guy who lost his job to Blaine Gabbert! While he is currently listed as the number one quarterback on the Niners' depth chart, he is in no way guaranteed to be there come opening day. Kaepernick stands to become the highest paid backup in the history of the game if he can’t get his act together.
His 78.5 passer rating and 59% pass completion rating were terrible in 2015. His six touchdown passes and five interceptions in nine games played in 2015 simply won’t do for a guy that is making nearly $16 million this year and even more over the next few seasons.
1 Joe Flacco
He’s been steady over his eight-year NFL career but Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been far from what most people would consider elite. He won a Super Bowl with Baltimore but the same is said for Trent Dilfer. The numbers that Flacco continue to put up are mediocre at best. In 2015, he had a 64% completion rate and a QB rating of 83.1 in an injury-shortened season. He has never had a 4,000-yard season and his career high for touchdown passes is 27.
So what the heck makes this guy the 5th highest paid pivot in the game? Sure, he has the benefit of having just signed a three-year extension which always helps, but to think that Joe Flacco makes more than Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady is baffling. Joe Flacco has never even been selected to play in the Pro Bowl!
Despite all of these knocks, Flacco is still a decent quarterback. He’s just not worth such a fat paycheck.