7 Most Overpaid and Underpaid San Francisco 49ers

Brandon BurnettContributor IIIJuly 4, 2012

7 Most Overpaid and Underpaid San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers would not have found themselves an overtime away from Super Bowl XLVI if they weren't a well-managed team with a financially balanced roster.

    That said, no NFL roster is devoid of at least a couple of players whose level of play hasn't yet matched their amount of pay. 

    Likewise, you'll find a surprise late-round pick or undervalued veteran who's outperformed his contract in any NFL city to which you travel.

    San Francisco is certainly no different.

    As you navigate through the upcoming slideshow, I'll present you with three current members of the 49ers roster whom I view as slightly overpaid players and four who are—in my opinion—vastly underpaid in relation to the income of their peers in the National Football League.

    Let me first emphasize, however, that the players I've selected for the "overpaid" portion of this article are not included because I feel they've got no place on this roster. Nor is it simply because I just don't like them.

    It's just that, for one reason or another, they've yet to provide an adequate return in regards to the investment the organization placed on said players.

    And for the "underpaid" players—I do not believe the 49ers I've listed are immediately deserving of shiny new deals that would saddle the franchise with an unstable financial future.

    Trent Baalke and Co. handle their business in a well-detailed manner that does not go unnoticed among the 49er faithful. That includes salary cap responsibilities, scouting and everything in between.

    But the 49ers would not be on the cusp of greatness if not for these underpaid players becoming the luxurious bargains that they currently are. 

    All that said, let's get this thing going.

     

    Notes:

    I've ordered the slides in a staggered fashion (Underpaid Player No. 4, Overpaid Player No. 3, Underpaid Player No. 3...etc.) instead of listing them consecutively. Whether it was for suspense—or maybe convenience—I'm not sure. Personally, it was more entertaining to assemble things that way. Hopefully you'll agree.

    Also, all contract amounts and player salary rankings were gathered via spotrac.com.

Underpaid No. 4: Bruce Miller, FB

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    The story of Bruce Miller in San Francisco is shaping up to be a memorable one.

    And it's only just begun.

    The 49ers made the former defensive end from the University of Central Florida their 211th pick in the NFL draft a year ago, after seeing something other NFL squads didn't.

    An NFL career on the offensive side of the ball.

    Miller replaced former 49er Moran Norris at fullback in the 2011 season and instantly made Baalke and Co. look like geniuses.

    When the injured Norris got healthy, he found that the starting fullback position wasn't there waiting for him. Miller was too busy plowing holes for running back Frank Gore to even think about heading back to the bench.

    He even logged 11 receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown in what was altogether a brilliant rookie campaign for the promising youngster. 

    I have little doubt that Miller's willingness to pummel the opposition upon request will be welcome in the Bay Area for some time. 

    As he continues to grow accustomed to the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers' new starting fullback seems destined to become one of the best lead blockers the NFL can offer.

    That's a rather promising future for a player who's in the midst of a four-year, $2.1 million contract. 

    In fact, Miller's base salary of $465,000 in 2012 barely makes a dent in the 49ers salary cap.

Overpaid No. 3: Michael Crabtree, WR

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    Finally at full health, Crabtree has plenty of fans and pundits both in and around San Francisco telling you the former 10th overall pick in 2009 has a breakout campaign in store for 2012.

    Factoring in the solid improvement Crabtree has made over three years and the injuries he's endured, the predictions come with solid reasoning.

    As it stands, though, we can't forget that Crabtree once introduced himself to the faithful by holding out for basically half of his rookie season. He's since had several (though they were nothing major) diva-like moments, and not until Jim Harbaugh became head coach did he appear fully engaged on and off the field.

    Despite lacking top-end speed, Michael Crabtree is an extremely talented receiver. And despite his somewhat troubled past, he still shows plenty of promise.

    Early into the 49ers' offseason programs, all signs currently point to Crabtree proving his worth in the near future.

    All that said, there's no way Crabs has earned the six-year, $32 million contract he was given as an NFL rookie. His 2012 base salary of $3.5 million actually ranks 12th among all NFL receivers. 

    And that figure rises to $4.5 million in 2013—the final year of the contract.

    So, if Crabtree figures to stick around long as the No. 1 receiver in San Francisco, he'd better have that breakout season in 2012.

    If that doesn't happen, the Niners at least now have a deep—and explosive—corps of wideouts that is waiting for its shot to pick up the slack.

Underpaid No. 3: Tarell Brown, CB

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    Tarell Brown may not be the first name that crosses your mind when sifting through members of this legendary 49er defense, but he's actually played a sizable role in its rise to dominance.

    The former fifth-round pick in 2007 has solid ball skills (four INTs in 2011) and also displays above-average footwork. Brown's awareness wasn't always up to par, but he seemed to be digesting defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's defense rather well as the 2011 season wore on. 

    I've said before that I'm a huge fan of second-year CB Chris Culliver and believe he will eventually assume the No. 2 spot at cornerback opposite Carlos Rogers. But if Brown plans to play his way to a pay raise in the near future, he won't relinquish his starting duties without a fight.

    Brown is set to make a base salary of $850,000 in 2012 and is ranked by spotrac.com as the 70th highest-paid CB in the NFL.

    Considering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just threw $37.5 million over five years at CB Eric Wright to be their No. 2 starter, Brown's five-year, $8.5 million deal signed in 2009 looks like a bargain of epic proportions. 

Overpaid No. 2: Jonathan Goodwin, C

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    In my opinion, center is one of the more underrated positions in football.

    The center is, of course, the first man to touch the ball each and every play. Not only is he expected to transfer the pigskin safely to his quarterback, but he also plays a big part in diagnosing blitzes and making sure his fellow linemen are aware of their assignments.

    Jonathan Goodwin is a veteran who handles these responsibilities very well. I give him a lot of credit for that. 

    The problem is that he's 33 years old. The Michigan product's best days are long gone, as he's nowhere near as mobile as he once was.

    Nonetheless, at 6'3", 320 pounds, he still possesses ideal size for a center and is a capable run blocker.

    I don't believe anyone expected the 2009 version of Goodwin to show up in San Fran. The team needed someone to replace long-time starter Eric Heitmann, and Goodwin was a solid free agent option that provided a veteran presence on a young offensive line.

    But as the rest of their O-line looks to progress, the 49ers cannot afford a continuous decline in play from the aging center. 

    Not when the 49ers' 2012 salary cap is taking a hit of $3.7 million from Goodwin's contract, anyway.

Underpaid No. 2: Mike Iupati, LG

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    Mike Iupati has been nothing but rock solid since arriving in San Francisco in 2010.

    The 49ers drafted the former Idaho Vandal 17th overall in hopes that they could transform the 6'5", 331-pound mauling guard into an All-Pro-caliber force on the gridiron.

    After just two seasons, Iupati is heading firmly in that direction.

    Iupati is already one of the nastiest and most effective run-blocking guards the NFL has to offer. B/R's Matt Miller ranked him as the second-best left guard in the league for the 2011 season.

    Bonuses aside, Iupati will earn a measly base salary of $703,500 and ranks as just the 45th highest-paid guard in the NFL.

    Surprisingly enough, he's just the second-most underpaid 49er on the current roster.

    Can you guess who's No. 1? You'll find out soon enough.

Overpaid No. 1: Parys Haralson, OLB

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    Like the other overpaid 49ers, this is not intended to be a knock on Haralson in any way.

    The seven-year vet has been a serviceable option in six seasons for the Red and Gold, including a couple performances early in his career that offered promise as a pass-rushing force from the outside.

    But Baalke selected Aldon Smith with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft for a reason. 

    Haralson simply did not advance into the well-rounded linebacker the Niners hoped for when signing the 28-year-old to a five-year, $15 million extension back in 2009.

    With Smith, the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up, expected to occupy one outside linebacker spot in 2012, and the newly extended Ahmad Brooks claiming the other, Haralson is relegated to a reserve role moving forward.

    Rookie outside linebackers Darius Fleming (Notre Dame) and Cam Johnson (Virginia) were taken in the 2012 NFL draft in hopes of further strengthening the unit, as well. Fleming, however, suffered a torn ACL at a rookie minicamp and will miss most, if not all, of the 2012 season.

    So, as much as the Niners appreciate Haralson's services, the base salary of $2.4 million he'll make for the upcoming season is too large of an investment for a player with little-to-no place in the long-term—or even short-term—future. 

    This is, of course, a minor blip on the radar of financial mistakes, when compared to, say, the eight-year, $80 million contract given once upon a time to former 49er Nate Clements. 

    It should also be noted that, if Smith happens to hit a sophomore slump and fails to capitalize on his full-time outside linebacking duties, Haralson could end up earning those sizable paychecks after all.

Underpaid No. 1: NaVorro Bowman, ILB

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    As Haralson becomes an unfortunate afterthought on an extremely talented defense, Bowman is proving that he can not only hang with the big boys.

    He can lead them, too.

    Playing alongside Patrick Willis in the Niners' 3-4 defense is a privilege that not many would take lightly.

    Bowman took his opportunity with pride and absolutely ran with it.

    In 2011, the 49ers tabbed No. 53 (Bowman) to replace the veteran presence of Takeo Spikes as the starting inside linebacker opposite Willis. He did not disappoint. 

    The former third-round pick from "Linebacker U" (Penn St.) racked up 143 tackles and was a high-flying force all year. Bowman was shedding blocks and making textbook tackles that resembled the five-time All-Pro Willis so closely you couldn't tell who was who until the whistle blew. 

    And that's coming from a guy who's watched Willis in nearly every game he's suited up for the Red and Gold.

    Anyway, perhaps no NFL team is getting more bang for its buck than San Francisco is currently getting from Bowman. The third-year pro earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2011 and is set to receive a base salary of only $490,000 in 2012.

    The up-and-coming superstar is playing out a four-year, $2.4 million rookie contract signed in 2010 and will be a free agent after the 2013 season.

    Of course, it's a safe bet that he'll be rewarded with an extension long before those days grow near.

    And, of course, it should be easy to see that Bowman is by far the most underpaid 49er on the roster in 2012.