50. Justin Smith
Smith is 33, but is slightly cheaper (two years/$18 million) and more consistent than Wilfork. The age, though, is why Smith ranks at 50 and isn't higher on the list.
Smith hasn't recorded less than 55 tackles or six sacks since going to San Francisco in 2008. He was a big part in the dominating 49ers defense last season. He's also a physical machine with only one season, 2001, when he played less than 16 games.
The 2001 season was Smith's rookie year in Cincinnati. He played 15 games that year.
49. Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas might be the best offensive lineman in the league. You might know that if he didn't play for the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns have Thomas locked up for the next seven years at a little under $11 million per season.
If the Browns continue the path of the past seven years, Thomas may be blocking for 10 different quarterbacks, but the Brandon Weeden guy might end up being good.
48. Brandon Flowers
47. Brandon Browner
Flowers is actually younger than Browner, but Browner is on clearance compared to what Kansas City is paying Flowers.
Flowers has at least two interceptions in each of his five seasons, including this year and is only 26 years old. His five-year contract is cheaper than what Asomugah signed in Philadelphia and will bring him to age 31—Asomugah's current age.
Browner is Weeden-like in his age-to-experience ratio (28 years old in his second year), but is only getting paid $1.1 million total for this season and next.
A 6'4", Browner towers over the average cornerback, and his comparable height to the wide receivers he covers led to six interceptions last season and two so far this year.
This is a case of Browner not necessarily being a better player than Flowers, but teams would rather have Browner's production at his wage.
46. Jamaal Charles
Charles has shown so far this season his knee is fine after tearing his ACL last September. Charles is third in the NFL in rushing yards this season, despite serving his bye during Week 7.
Charles makes this list because of his cheap contract. The Chiefs will only have to pay around $4.5 million per year for the next four years to one of the more productive backs in the league. That four years will only take Charles up until age 29, allowing Kansas City to part ways before Charles' production inevitably starts to decline—provided Scott Pioli is not still the general manager.
45. Kam Chancellor
Chancellor has been all over the field this year for the Seahawks. With 49 tackles already, he leads all defensive backs and is already more than halfway to his tackle total from last season.
At 6'3", Chancellor creates a similar problem to receivers as Brandon Browner. They play in the same defensive backfield.
Chancellor is also on the same clearance rack as Browner in Seattle—owed a whole $1.3 million over the next two years.
44. Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph was actually a bit higher on this list before he was held without a catch against the Arizona Cardinals.
In only five games this season, Rudolph is only a catch away from tying last season's reception total. With 25 catches this season, Rudolph has caught five touchdowns—making a catch to touchdown ratio 5:1. That ratio would give Rudolph a 20-touchdown season in a year with 100 receptions.
In a game evolving toward athletic pass-catching tight ends, having a 22-year-old Rudolph at three years for $3 million total will become a steal for the Vikings.
43. Joe Flacco
Our first quarterback shows up on the list. At the moment, Flacco is cheap at the quarterback position—owed only $8 million for the 2012 season.
Flacco could free fall faster than Lindsay Lohan off this list if the Ravens decide to give him a massive contract extension at the end of the season without a noticeable improvement in his play.
With Ladarious Webb and Ray Lewis out on defense, Flacco needs to lead the offense, enabling it to carry a weakened defense like the Baltimore defense has done for the offense for so long.
Flacco's game against Houston did not help his case for the Tony Romo- or Philip Rivers-like $14-15 million per year contract Flacco thinks he deserves.
(Spolier alert: Romo and Rivers aren't on this list).
42. Lance Briggs
Wasn't Lance Briggs supposed to be burned out two years ago?
Briggs is coming off another 100-plus tackle season, his seventh in eight years, and already has two defensive touchdowns this season.
Briggs is leading a Chicago defense ranked first in Football Outsiders' Team Defense DVOA.
At 31, Briggs is slightly behind his 100-tackle pace for the season, but if the interceptions come instead, I don't think the Bears will care.
41. Haloti Ngata
Ngata is a little more expensive than the previously mentioned Vince Wilfork and Justin Smith, but he is both younger and more effective.
Despite being a little beaten up this season (via Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun), his overall production is still present. With three sacks so far, he is on pace to surpass his career high of 5.5 he set in 2010 and the five he totaled last season.
With Lewis and Webb out, Ngata's job now is to try to not make Joe Flacco be the most important player on the Ravens as we discussed before.
40. Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald may be the best receiver in the NFL and who knows what Fitzgerald could do with a competent starting quarterback (cut to Fitzgerald frantically texting Kurt Warner to unretire), but Fitzgerald's contract is as big as Arizona's offensive line is bad.
At 29 years old (where did the time go, Larry?), Fitzgerald's seven years remaining on his contract will bring him to being a 36-year-old receiver getting paid about $14 million at the end of the deal.
With a comparison to Randy Moss, who is only 34 years old right now, you can't expect Fitzgerald to keep putting up 1,000-yard seasons into his 30s, even if he's done it in six of the last eight seasons.
39. B.J. Raji
Raji is only 26 years old and is playing at the end of his rookie contract. With two years and around $11.5 remaining, maybe Raji can give the Packers a discount double check on his next contract.
With Raji's production so far this season, including being inactive against the Rams, he might not have a choice. Raji has yet to make a play behind the line of scrimmage, as a sack or stuff.
Still, Raji is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but better value can be found as you will see later.
38. Earl Thomas
37. Major Wright
Thomas, 23, and Wright, 24, are the two best young safeties in the league right now.
Thomas, in his third year, had five interceptions in his rookie season followed by 96 tackles last year. Thomas doesn't have to do as much now in the Seattle secondary, but his play-making ability makes his presence felt among the other defensive backs for the Seahawks (and he needs his play to make his presence felt as the only starting Seahawk in the secondary under six-foot tall).
Wright, also in his third year, has already matched his career high for interceptions this season with three. Wright has had trouble staying on the field, setting a career high of 12 games played last year, but has stayed healthy so far.
With athletic tight ends becoming a bigger part of offenses, safeties have become relied upon to stop them, since most tight ends can now blow by linebackers while running routes.
Wright and Thomas are both very affordable. Wright is only owed $1.4 million until the end of next season. Thomas will make $9 million total over the next three years.
Compared to the older safeties in the league such as Ed Reed and Charles Woodson making around $9-10 million per year, little can beat getting the production of Thomas and Wright for that money.
36. Ray Rice
Rice marks the second and final running back on this list.
Rice's usage rate has dropped from last season to this season, but he is still one of the most productive backs in the league.
Rice trails only C.J. Spiller in DVOA for running backs, per Football Outsiders, but Rice has carried the ball 34 more times than Spiller in the same amount of games.
Even though Rice has only reach 100 yards rushing in two games this season, he is still on pace to surpass 1,000 for the fourth consecutive year.
Rice's contract also expires just as the running back turns the cursed 30 years old. At an average of $7 million per year, Baltimore already has a bargain, as Houston is paying Arian Foster (one year older than Rice) around $8.5 million per year for below average value, per DVOA.
35. Joe Staley
Joe Thomas, as mentioned earlier, may be the best offensive lineman in football, but Joe Staley delivers the best value.
While the Browns pay Thomas around $11 million a year for the next seven years, San Francisco has Staley locked down for six years for a grand total of $24 million over the length of the contract.
Staley is a year older than Thomas, but offensive linemen do not deteriorate in skill as fast as skill position players would. The one year age difference is not enough to make up for the $7 million per year discount the 49ers receive with Staley.
Being a part of the best run blocking line, per Football Outsiders, doesn't hurt either.
(Spoiler alert No. 2: You no longer have to pretend to be interested in offensive linemen)
34. Richard Sherman
Sherman completes the four-fecta of Seattle defensive backs on this list, and deservedly so.
According to Football Outsiders' Team Defense DVOA, Seattle ranks first in defending the opposing team's No. 1 wide receiver and sixth defending the No. 2 receiver. Those stats would be the result of Sherman and Browner.
Sherman is on his way to surpassing the numbers he put up during an impressive rookie season last year. The corner straight outta Compton (well, actually... Compton, then Stanford, then Seattle) already has three interceptions and 11 defended passes.
Seattle again struck gold with production from a cheap contract. Sherman is owed $1.8 million over the next three seasons.
33. Demaryius Thomas
In six games this season with Peyton Manning as his quarterback, Thomas has matched last season's amount of receptions and is only 10 yards away from surpassing last year's total receiving yards.
Relive this one more time, but I think Thomas is happy with his new quarterback.
Thomas is only 24 years old and is now becoming a star in his third season. At only around $3.5 million per year for the next three years, the Broncos are going to get more than their money's worth of production out of Thomas.
32. Aaron Hernandez
Hernandez has dealt with injuries this season, but that won't take away from his place as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
In the three games he has played this season, not including the game when he hurt himself against the Cardinals, Hernandez has been targeted at least seven times and has no fewer than five receptions.
Hernandez's seven-year contract is relatively cheap at just under $6 million per year. It won't even take him up to the season when he turns 30 years old.
31. Ndamukong Suh
30. Geno Atkins
Welcome to the younger and cheaper (in Atkins' case only) alternatives at defensive tackle to B.J Raji and Haloti Ngata.
Suh, 25, and Atkins, 24, are the future of defensive linemen up the middle.
Suh's production has fallen off as of late, but his spectacular rookie season brings hope that type of play can come back. Suh can't seem to stay out of trouble off the field, but his potential is massive if he can stay focused (via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk).
He stills shows up on this list because he could need a change of scenery to turn things around—and there would not be a shortage of suitors.
Meanwhile in Cincinnati...
Atkins is becoming everything Suh was supposed to be. Through seven games this season, Atkins already has seven sacks—a half sack shy of the career high he set last year.
Atkins is already becoming an alarming presence up the middle—and with only $1.4 million owed to him over the next two years—Cincinnati can get the better defensive line work for about 5 percent of what Detroit is paying Suh.
29. DeMarcus Ware
28. Aldon Smith
DeMarcus Ware has had at least 11 sacks in the past six seasons. Aldon Smith is a sixth of the way there, totaling 14 sacks in his rookie season.
Ware only had eight sacks in his rookie season and improved that totaled the next three years. Smith is going to be scary if he continues to improve his sack totals from year to year.
Ware and Smith are both on pace for double-digit sack seasons.
Smith gets the edge because he's seven years younger and $9 million a year cheaper.
Just don't tell DeMarcus Ware, he's scary.
27. Jimmy Graham
Graham is another tight end battling injuries this year, but when healthy, he's unstoppable. Graham once held the NFL record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end—for about 10 minutes.
At 6'7", Graham is nearly uncoverable in the red zone and his 11 touchdowns last year are proof.
Graham has still yet to sign a contract extension like some of his tight end counterparts, so the Saints can't ask for much more only paying $1.4 million for the next two years.
Also, expect Graham's production to go up once New Orleans gets its real coach back.
26. Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson is breaking the Madden Curse, is that not enough? Well, except for only having one touchdown this season.
Johnson has gained 100 yards receiving in three of Detroit's six games this season.
He doesn't always get single covered, but when he does, he makes the cornerback feel embarrassed.
The only reason Johnson isn't higher up on the list is his massive contract. Eight years and $150 million is a lot for a wide receiver who is already 27 years old—even if that receiver's nickname is Megatron.