There is a core group of guys in the NFL that are vastly underpaid. Sure, you may not feel bad since these guys are all millionaires, but eight of the guys on this list are getting way less than they are worth. But the NFL isn’t always profiting off those guys who are getting less than they deserve. In fact a lot of guys have received the types of contracts that truly equal what they’re worth. They bring in millions of dollars for their franchise and for the NFL, and they are rightly compensated for their work on and off the field. Those are the guys like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Von Miller. But this list doesn’t address those guys.
With this list we look at eight stars who are greatly underpaid, along with seven guys who just aren’t worth the money. These are two vastly different ends of the spectrum, and each one is just as infuriating to the fans who watch the game. There’s nothing worst than wondering if you’re superstar athlete on the field is going to return next year after spending the last few years playing for pennies compared to the type of contract he deserves. But it’s also just as terrible watching a guy get tens of millions of dollars when he should be playing for somewhere close to the league minimum.
We’ll begin with the guys who are underpaid and overpaid, and then continue down with the one’s who meet the most extreme of this criteria. By the end of the list, you’ll know which of the following athletes are the NFL’s most underpaid and underappreciated stars, and who are the guys that are not worth the money dished out to them each week.
15 UNDERPAID: DAVID JOHNSON, $615,000
Here we have an athlete that is within the top 3 players at his position. In this case, David Johnson is making way less than he should be. Johnson is entering his third year of a four-year rookie contract and he’s making a dismal $615,000. That’s just awful for a guy who produced more than any other running back last season. Arizona should be ashamed.
The worst part is that Johnson is playing in one of football’s most injury-prone positions and he’s got to do it for two more seasons before he can renegotiate terms. That’s an awfully long time to keep production at these levels while avoiding injury. Plus, with the season that Johnson just posted it won’t be surprising if Arizona begins to work him more and more. It’s completely awful that the Cardinals are benefiting off of Johnson’s prime years for literally just thousands of dollars. Again, Arizona … shame on you for allowing a rising star to be paid so little.
14 NOT WORTH THE MONEY: PHILIP RIVERS, $14,000,000
Philip Rivers should be the poster child for overpaid quarterbacks in the NFL. With a $14 million base salary, Rivers is getting the type of money that should be reserved for quarterbacks on the verge of making a Super Bowl run. To be honest, this will be a good season for Rivers if he could manage a winning record for the Chargers. If he takes them to the playoffs, that’ll be an extreme shock.
That’s because the aged quarterback is a turnover machine and his accuracy keeps diminishing the older he gets. Sure, Rivers was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl last season but that was after a year where he won just five games while Rivers completed barely more than 60 percent of his passes. He also led the league in interceptions for the second time in three years as he threw 21 completions to the opposing defense throughout the 2016 regular season. That’s awful for anyone, but it’s really bad for one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL.
13 UNDERPAID: JAMEIS WINSTON, $615,000
It’s not often that a No. 1 pick and underpaid get used in the same description, but that’s the case for Jameis Winston, who averages about a half million dollars per year (base salary) through his rookie contract, which is a four-year deal. It should also be noted that Winston also has a $4 million signing bonus built in each year, but still, for a quarterback of his caliber, it’s not great.
When you factor in all of the money that Winston can receive, he’s the 25th highest paid quarterback in the NFL. That means guys like Cason Wentz and Jared Goff will make more money then him. It gets worst. Not only do those guys make more money, but Tyrod Taylor and Mike Glennon will pull in about $10 million more than Winston. Let’s hope that Tampa Bay makes up for this when it’s time to sign Winston to another contract because he definitely deserves the pay raise.
12 NOT WORTH THE MONEY: JONATHAN STEWART, $1,100,000
Just over a million dollars doesn’t seem like an overpayment, but when you factor in Jonathan Stewart’s other earnings for 2017, he’s pulling in more money than just about every other running back in the league (except for Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy). After all is said and done in 2017, Stewart should pull in about eight million dollars. That’s a bit outrageous for a guy who’s pretty good sometimes, and barely showing up on the stat sheet for a lot of the season.
Sure, Stewart is a solid veteran presence for the Panthers, but that doesn’t mean he should be in the top three earners among NFL running backs. He’s still getting paid like he’s progressing like a first round pick should be, but Stewart has been selected to just one Pro Bowl and that was primarily due to Cam Newton and Carolina’s stunning one-loss regular season. After this contract is up it will be quite tough to find this type of money for the now aging running back.
11 UNDERPAID: MIKE EVANS, $690,000
Luckily Mike Evans is also compensated with a signing bonus of about $2 million, but he’s still not properly compensated for his contributions to this team. In fact, 48 other wide receivers are compensated better than Evans. He’s still got two more seasons before a new contract comes in, so hopefully he’ll be able to continue his production levels until then. Like a team we will talk about soon (hint – it’s the Raiders), the Buccaneers are lucking out by benefiting off of two young rising superstars that they drafted in the first round. Soon these two players will be some of the top paid guys in the league, but for now they’re severely underpaid.
Evans was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season, and he’s been playing at the level of seasoned vets. Even more important is the chemistry he’s been building with Jameis Winston. At this pace, these two will be crushing defenses in the postseason very soon.
10 NOT WORTH THE MONEY: TAVON AUSTIN, $3,500,000
At just $3.5 million Tavon Austin is overpaid, but he also gets an $11.5 million roster bonus this season that just blows most wide receivers payments out of the water. Austin is paid like he’s a top 3 wide receiver, but he plays like a guy who would be a No. 3 on a lot of teams. Austin has never really done anything to separate him from the pack, and he should prepare for a severe pay cut when his contract is up (especially because there’s some options to get him more than $9 million, but that’s never ever never going to happen at this rate).
Austin’s best season came last year as he recorded 509 receiving yards along with three touchdowns, and he added 159 rushing yards and one touchdown (the year before was his best rushing year with 434 yards and four scores on the ground). But that production doesn’t even guarantee the overpaid receiver a roster spot, right now it’s the millions of dollars that his contract guarantees him that’s keeping him in the league.
9 UNDERPAID: ANTONIO BROWN, $910,000
The only reason Antonio Brown isn’t higher on this list is because he already inked a deal that nets him the type of money that he’s worth beginning in 2018. Plus a huge signing bonus for his future contract he’s not going to be hurting for cash. But for 2017, Brown is barely making more than the league minimum (which is about $450,000). This year Brown’s salary for is $910,000. Sure, that’s about double the league minimum, but when you see guys of similar talent making nearly $10 million, it’s obvious that Brown currently sits much closer to the lowest end of the pay scale.
Luckily for Brown, his current contract is nearing it’s end and the Steelers have rewarded him with a contract that will make Brown possibly the highest paid receiver near its end (2019 – 2021 he’s set to make a base salary of about $12 million a year). The Steelers have shown that they’re committed to Brown being a part of this team for a years to come, now we’ll have to see if it pays off.
8 NOT WORTH THE MONEY: TRUMAINE JOHNSON, $16,742,000
You’re crazy if you think Trumaine Johnson deserves to be one of the highest paid guys in the league. With a base salary approaching the $20 million mark, Johnson should be one of the best cornerbacks that the league has ever seen. But that’s not the case. Johnson has yet to have a season where he starts more than 14 games (he’s had two seasons where he’s started less than five games throughout his five-year career).
Johnson is good, but not among the league’s best. Yet the Rams signed him to a huge one year deal, so it looks like they think he could be the anchor to their defense for years to come. But there’s a major issue with that. It’s likely he won’t prove that next season, and the Rams will be forced to continue dumping way too much money into an unproven star athlete. They’d be better off letting him test the market, where he’d surely get a heck of a lot less money than he’s getting now.
7 UNDERPAID: AARON DONALD, $1,802,250
These next few underpaid athletes are all guys playing under their rookie contracts, which have turned out to be way less than they’re worth. But that’s how it goes in the NFL. A lot of times greatly overvalue a young star and are left regretting offering up all that money, while other times the player lives up to his potential and is making millions (a lot of time tens of millions) of dollars less than they should be receiving.
Aaron Donald, the 13th pick out of the 2014 draft, is a huge discount deal for the type of production the Rams are receiving out of the young defensive end. Donald has been selected to the Pro Bowl each season and was the defensive rookie of the year in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, Donald was a first-team All-Pro selection. There’s no for sure way in telling if Donald can keep up this production for two more years before he signs a new contract, but he’s on pace to vastly increase his earnings in 2019.
6 NOT WORTH THE MONEY: TYROD TAYLOR, $7,500,500
Tyrod Taylor had one good season and is now getting paid like a guy who should considered good enough to start on any team in the league. Well, that just isn’t right and Taylor should be forced to give some of his money to some of the other guys on this list who are severely underpaid. In the last two seasons, Taylor has posted a 14-14 record with the Bills as their starting quarterback.
Taylor was even selected to the Pro Bowl in 2015 when he led the team to a 7-6 record under his control. The one really good thing about Taylor’s play is that he throws way more touchdowns than interceptions – 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 17 touchdowns in 2016 with just six interceptions each year. But this doesn’t justify the whopping salary that the Bills have given to Taylor, who may not even be a starter by the end of next season.
5 UNDERPAID: DEREK CARR, $977,519
It’s a safe bet that anyone drafted in 2014 who has performed well is somewhat underpaid. Derek Carr, though, would be the poster child for that campaign if you looked across the board. Not to knock the other guys on the field, but Carr is the prime decision maker in Oakland and a huge factor between wins and losses (we all saw how a 12-win team fell apart once Carr got injured last season).
When you look at the value that a player brings to a team, it could be argued that Carr adds more value to the Raiders than Tom Brady does to the Patriots. That’s because the Patriots have proved that they can win without the greatest quarterback ever, yet the Raiders have proved the exact opposite. Without Carr on the field, the team absolutely falls apart. But with the young quarterback in the game, the Raiders are quite the scary playoff competitor.
4 NOT WORTH THE MONEY: BROCK OSWEILER, 16,000,000
This Texans dropped the ball when they originally offered Brock Osweiler all of this money. They really screwed up. At the price Osweiler is paid, you’d think that he has a track record of years of victories and a star-like stat sheet. That’s not at all the case for Osweiler. He played seven good games with Denver and then was offered this huge multi-year deal. And the seven games weren’t even that great. He won five of his appearances, but threw for just over a 60 percent completion rate with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
During his first full year as a starter, Osweiler picked up a below-60 percent completion rate while tossing one more interceptions than he did touchdowns (15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions). The Texans dumped Osweiler off on Cleveland, where he’ll surely fizzle out of the league if the Browns don’t find some sap to take the overrated and overpaid quarterback.
3 UNDERPAID: KHALIL MACK, $690,000
Here we have the second underpaid player on the Raiders roster. They sure are getting a great deal for two of the best young stars on each side of the football field. Khalil Mack is paid about a couple of million dollars more than Carr because of signing bonuses worth a few million each year, which is understandable because Carr was picked in the second round while Mack was an upper first round selection. But the Raiders are still getting a steal because Mack has proved to be one of the best defenders in the league.
Last season Mack was named the Defensive Player of the Year and was selected to his second-straight Pro Bowl. Furthermore, in 2015 Mack became the first player in NFL history to be a first-team All Pro selection for two different positions – defensive end and outside linebacker. There’s no doubt this production will continue and if things play out as it’s currently trending, Oakland may soon have the best player on each side of the ball.
2 NOT WORTH THE MONEY: KIRK COUSINS, $23,943,600
The Redskins didn’t want to risk a multi-year contract on Kirk Cousins yet, so they paid him the highest base salary among quarterbacks that will be playing next year. It doesn’t matter that he signed a one-year deal, Washington is severly overpaying a quarterback who hasn’t proved any real value in the NFL. Sure, he can put up some decent stats and lead his team to a barely winning record, but that isn’t deserving of nearly $25 million a year.
Cousins does deserve to get starting quarterback money, but not nearly this much. And it will become obvious after we watch him bottom out this year as the Redskins have lost most of the weapons Cousins has grown accustom to. Although he posted barely winning records in his first full two seasons as a starter, that shouldn’t be expected going forward. A better expectation is that Cousins will be fighting to find a starting job by next season.
1 UNDERPAID: ODELL BECKHAM JR, $1,839,027
Odell Beckham Jr.’s base salary for 2017 is $1,839,027. Although that’s much higher than the minimum NFL salary of $435,000, Beckham’s base salary sits at about average compared to the rest of the league. But it’s definitely no match to a guy like Julio Jones, who has a base salary of nearly $12 million. Sure, Jones may have a bit better of a resume, but there’s no doubting that these guys are comparable on the field. They’re two of the three best wide receivers in the league, yet Beckham is making $10 million less than his counterpart in Atlanta.
Part of the problem is that Beckham is still playing under his rookie contract. This probably looked good a few years ago when he had an uncertain future, but now this is just absurd that Beckham is making so little entering his fourth year in the NFL. Without a doubt, Beckham will one day be making much more than he is now. But for now, he’ll be compensated as if he’s just an average athlete.
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