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The 10 Biggest Bargain Contracts in the NFL

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterAugust 2, 2012

The 10 Biggest Bargain Contracts in the NFL

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    Every year a new player breaks out and lands a monster contract in the offseason. But, what is it like to play like a Pro Bowler and not get paid like one? 

    Some of the best players in the NFL are drafted after the first round—or they aren't even drafted at all. These are the best kinds of players to have on your team. Highly successful and easy on your pocketbook.

    A few of these players are household names and some are not. Regardless, let's take a look at who provides the best bang for your buck. 

Alterraun Verner

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    2012 Salary: $490,000

    With Cortland Finnegan off to St. Louis with Jeff Fisher, the Titans are handing over the right cornerback position to up-and-coming star Alterraun Verner

    Verner was a fourth-round pick out of UCLA in 2010. As a rookie he stepped in right away and showed that he could play. He played over 1,000 snaps and was thrown at a league high 106 times, but he never backed down as quarterbacks only managed 9.4 yards a throw on him—one of the lowest totals in the NFL.

    2011 proved to be more of the same, as Pro Football Focus had him as their 12th highest graded cornerback. Opposing quarterbacks must of gotten the hint, as he was only targeted 66 times. Of those 66 pass attempts, he only allowed 37 completions and three touchdowns.  

    Verner is scheduled for free agency in 2014. 

Brian De La Puente

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    2012 Salary: $540,000

    Brian De La Puente is a late bloomer in terms of playing time and success. De La Puente went undrafted in 2008 and since then has bounced around to four different teams before landing with the Saints in 2011. 

    With longtime center Jonathan Goodwin heading to San Francisco, the Saints' center job was up for grabs. Olin Kreutz was brought over from Chicago, but then he decided his heart wasn't in it anymore, so now it was De La Puente's job to keep.

    And keep it he did; keeping Drew Brees clean was his No. 1 goal. Allowing only 14 total pressures over 14 games is extremely impressive. Blocking in the run game could stand to improve, so it will be interesting to see if De La Puente is as effective of a player with Carl Nicks now gone.

    The Saints inked Brian in the offseason as an exclusive rights free agent. He will be a restricted free agent next season.     

Geno Atkins

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    2012 Salary: $490,000

    In limited snaps as a rookie in 2010, Geno Atkins exploded onto the scene. But 2011 was when he did real damage to opposing offenses. 

    He led all interior defensive linemen in sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback hurries. His efforts as a pass rusher helped him earn his first NFL All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections. There might not be a better pass rushing defensive tackle in the game.

    Even though he's most well known for his pass rushing skills, his run stuffing ability is just as impressive. Atkins only missed two tackles all season and notched 10 tackles for loss. With the Bengals defense continuously getting better, there will be more All-Pro selections in his near future.

    He's scheduled to hit the open market in 2014. 

DeMarco Murray

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    2012 Salary: $675,781

    While DeMarco Murray's success was short-lived and expanded only over 388 snaps, his play was electrifying. 

    Everyone remembers the 25 carry, 253-yard performance against the Rams in Week 7. In that game he made his living on outside runs, especially on the right side. He attacked that area for 78 yards on 10 carries, but his 91-yard home run came between the center and right guard.

    It is really too bad that he has the worst injury luck, but it's no luck that he had a four-week stretch where he averaged eight yards a carry and 150 yards rushing per game. 

    He has entered training camp as the starter and don't expect that to change anytime soon, as Felix Jones is still trying to pass his conditioning test. 2014 is the last year of Murray's contract, then he becomes a unrestricted free agent.

Greg Hardy

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    2012 Salary: $540,000

    As a standout at Mississippi, Greg Hardy was considered to be a top prospect if he were to enter the 2009 draft. Instead, he returned to college for his senior season. At the end of his collegiate career he had 38.5 tackles for loss and 26.5 sacks. 

    Sports Illustrated had Hardy ranked as a top prospect in the 2010 draft, but his sub-par pro day and inability to stop gaining weight hurt him in the pre-draft process. He was ultimately selected in the sixth round and played well enough to start all 16 games in 2011.

    Over the past two years, he has six sacks, 17 quarterback hits and 47 quarterback hurries. His pressure numbers rivaled those of Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney—not bad company to be in as a second-year player. 

Jared Veldheer

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    2012 Salary: $540,000

    Jared Veldheer struggled mightily in his first season as a pro, allowing eight sacks and a total 42 pressures. But as he began to settle in and improve, Veldheer took the leap from one of the worst tackles to one of the best. 

    His biggest improvement was his work in the run game. When the Raiders ran the ball off his backside last season, they gained an impressive 4.8 yards per carry. The most productive back behind Jared was Michael Bush, as he carried the ball 33 times.

    There were four games in 2011 were he blanked the competition for zero total pressures. If he keeps up that level of play, his stock will only keep rising as he hits free agency in 2014. 

Justin Houston

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    2012 Salary: $465,000

    Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel is on record saying he expects outside linebacker Justin Houston to take big steps in 2012. If that's the case, he can expect a monster season from the pass rusher opposite Tamba Hali. 

    For the last few seasons Hali has been the Chiefs only real threat off the edge. So, Houston's surprise production in 2011 was welcomed. The start to his season was rocky to say the least, but as the snaps increased, so did his performance. 

    Over the last five games of the season he notched six sacks and 13 hurries; his only real shortcomings were in pass coverage. A full offseason learning the defense can only help Houston as he gains a better understanding of the defensive scheme.

    Since he was a rookie this past year, 2015 is his scheduled year of free agency.

Jimmy Graham

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    2012 Salary: $540,000

    With the size of the contract Rob Gronkowski just got from the Patriots, it's safe to assume Jimmy Graham's will be similar when he hits the market in 2014. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Saints try and lock him up before then; his price will only go up from here on out.

    This year will be only the fourth year of organized football for Graham, so it's safe to assume that he has plenty of room to grow. Most don't think that he can improve on a 1,300-yard, 10-touchdown season. But I could actually see him doing it this year, as Brees will only get more and more comfortable with him.

    Last season Graham saw 145 targets, which was 24 more than the next closest tight end. 

Kam Chancellor

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    2012 Salary: $540,000

    It seems as if Pete Carroll and John Schneider have the ability to find quality starters in the mid to late rounds. Look at players like Richard Sherman, Walter Thurmond III and Kam Chancellor. 

    Chancellor didn't record a start and played fewer than 200 snaps as a rookie in 2010, but when Lawyer Milloy packed it in for good, coach Carroll knew who his starting strong safety was going to be. His first game of the season against San Francisco set the tone, as he recorded a team-high four defensive stops (defensive stops are solo tackles that result in an offensive failure). 

    In coverage, opposing quarterbacks had a tough time beating Chancellor, as they could only muster up a rating of 64.0. His eight passes defended were third best at his position and the five picks ended up being fifth out of all safeties. 

    I have a feeling his Pro Bowl selection in 2011 will be the first of many and his 2014 pay day will be very gracious. 

Victor Cruz

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    2012 Salary: $540,000

    Victor Cruz has to be one of the biggest bargains ever. His production and level of play was so important to the Giants offense and the success of Eli Manning

    Cruz had shown flashes of the electric player we saw in 2011, but those were preseason performances. The Giants stashed him on injured reserve in 2010, as they didn't want to take the chance of him getting swooped up by another team if he was on the practice squad. 

    Last year's 1,536 yards set the single-season franchise record for the New York Giants. He also tied the NFL record for longest receiving touchdown at 99 yards.

    Click here to see his 99-yard touchdown reception against the Jets. 

     

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