The 25 Most Underpaid Athletes in Sports
You're probably already skeptical. After all, aren't all professional athletes overpaid to some degree? But the fact that many of them make more in a day than many of us make in a year is completely irrelevant. We're not critical cogs in a multi-billion dollar business.
So you have to understand that when someone says an athlete is underpaid, it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that he has trouble paying his bills or putting food on the table. It means that they are making less than their market value based on production and value to their team. It's as simple as that.
Or maybe it isn't so simple? It actually took me awhile to really embrace and understand this concept. It would have been significantly easier and less research-intensive to put together a list of the most overpaid athletes. Singling out high-profile duds is child's play compared to identifying their more productive, underappreciated counter parts.
But I've done just that. Or at least I tried. Let's take a look at the 25 most underpaid athletes in professional sports.
25. Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have had incredible success since moving to Baltimore in 1996, despite having absolutely no interest in a fully functioning offense. In fact, the defense has seemed downright adversarial with the offense in recent years, with the exception being running back Ray Rice. For this reason, Rice got a contract extension in 2012 and quarterback Joe Flacco did not.
Flacco may have his flaws, but he's the first legitimate franchise quarterback the Ravens have ever had. They've made their living on defense and have just cobbled together aging veteran free agents and underachieving place holders on offense. In second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith, the Ravens have finally found a potential No. 1 receiver for the first time since the decline of Derrick Mason.
Smith put together a solid rookie season in 2011 despite Baltimore's run-first offensive philosophy, nearly out-gaining overpriced veteran Anquan Boldin. Flacco's contract will probably be the first priority after the 2012 season, but Smith, who is slated to earn just $529,000 this season, should be considered just as important.
Consider this: Smith and Boldin are splitting production 50/50, but only Boldin finds himself on the list of the 10 highest paid wideouts in the NFL in 2012. He's slated to make $6 million, which is more than Roddy White and Larry Fitzgerald.
24. Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings
Kings guard Jimmer Fredette was drafted 10th overall in the 2011 NBA draft, to much fanfare. But it quickly became clear that his dominant college play wasn't going to make a smooth transition to the NBA. Fredette quickly lost the potential for a starting job to "Mr. Irrelevant" Isaiah Thomas, who was the last pick in the second round of the draft.
Fredette was signed to a relatively modest contract by rookie standards, earning approximating $2.5 million in his first two seasons with large bumps to $3 million in 2014 and $4 million in 2015. Modest, perhaps, but certainly a fortune compared to the player who has been playing his actual position for most of the last year.
Consider this: Thomas was given the starting opportunity when Fredette struggled mightily early on and there was absolutely no contest after that. Yet Thomas made the least amount of any rookie in 2011, and is slated to make just $762,195 in 2012.
23. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
21 year-old All-Star Angels outfielder Mike Trout is that rare kind of baseball prospect who not only storms onto the scene as a key contributor before the end of his rookie contract, but elevates himself to the status as one of the best at his position in the MLB.
When a player is drafted, typically they need years of development before finding a place on a Major League roster, and often they never pan out and fade into obscurity. Drafted 25th overall by Los Angeles of Anaheim in 2009, Trout was undoubtedly a promising talent--being named Topps Minor League Player of the Year in 2010 and USA Today Minor League Player of the Year in 2011.
However, the 2012 season launched Trout into stardom, when he was called up by the Angels on April 28. Trout answered the call, setting the rookie stolen base record at 49, while batting .326, with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs.
For his services, Trout earned $1.98 million. When he signed his $9.9 million, five-year rookie deal in 2009, Trout was essentially Google stock in 1999. And, while the team is making huge dividends on a smart investment, they are going to have to buy his shares a current price, or sell, sell, sell.
Consider this: Angels 2012 blockbuster free agent acquisition Albert Pujols earned $12 million this season, good for $400,000 per home run (30). Comparatively, Trout's 30 came at the discount rate of $66,000 each.
22. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Considering the Jets have been one place out of the basement of the Southeast division the last two seasons, they should count their lucky stars that they were able to sign a consistent producer like Blake Wheeler for a two-year deal worth just over $2.5 million per season.
Wheeler put up solid numbers for the Bruins and became an even bigger producer after being traded to the Thrashers (who became the Jets the next season). In 2011-12, Wheeler finished the season with 64 points, 208 shots on goal and logged nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game.
Consider this: There are a lot more right wingers out there who produce far less and make far more. When his contract is up in 2013, he will either be rewarded with a big raise or he will walk.
21. Justin Tuck, New York Giants
You probably wouldn't know it with fellow Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora publicly whining about his salary for the last few years, but Justin Tuck has been in the exact same position. In 2011, the New York Times ranked Tuck the third best defensive end in the NFL, while Umenyiora didn't even make the list. Tuck's base salary in 2012 is $3.2 million, while Umenyiora's was $3.975 million before restructuring his contract.
Tuck has rivaled Umenyiora in sacks over the last three seasons, but has outperformed in in every other category and he's managed to stay healthy. Same goes for the two defensive ends ranked above Tuck—Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers.
Consider this: Tuck is three years younger than Peppers and Freeney and has matched them, or exceeded them, in production over the last three seasons. That said, Peppers is set to make $12.4 million and Freeney is set to make an astronomical $19 million in 2012 if you include base salary and bonuses.
20. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Unfortunately, a torn ACL put an end to what was looked like an extremely promising rookie season for Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio. It can be argued that 41 games isn't a large enough sample size to determine that he has a future as one of the elite point guards in the game, but I'm going to argue that it is.
First of all, he may have been an NBA rookie in 2011, but he played two seasons professionally in Spain after being drafted by the Timberwolves—which means there's a lot more play to evaluate than just the 41 games he played in 2012. And when he moved from Barcelona to the vastly more talented NBA, his play and his stats actually improved.
So far, Rubio has had an up-and-down journey in the league and his stats don't tell the tale just yet, but he is a bona fide franchise point guard, and is playing for less than what a number of mediocre of point guards in the league are making, including the Heat's Mario Chalmers ($4 million in 2012).
Consider this: Rubio will be making approximately $3.5 million in 2012 and slightly over $16 million over four years if the Wolves exercise his club option in 2014. Derrick Rose will be making slightly over $16 million in 2012 alone.
19. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban has been one of the more underrated players at his position in his first three seasons in the NHL. Subban only played in two games for the Habs in 2009-10, but logged two full seasons the next two years, hardly missing a game.
Subban has proved himself a formidable physical presence on the ice who has logged an average of 23 minutes of ice time per game over the last two years. He's also proved an effective scorer over the same period of time, racking up 21 goals and 53 assists for the Habs.
Subban earned $875,000 per season in Montreal and failed to come to terms with the club on a new contract prior to the lockout.
Consider this: The Canadiens offered Subban a two-year deal worth $5.5 million in August 2012, which he turned down. That $2.25 million per year offer would have placed him outside the top 100 on the list of the highest paid defenseman in the NHL. I don't expect to see him back in Montreal.
18. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
From 2004 through 2008 Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista had a relatively unremarkable career, but once the MLB journeyman made his way to Toronto, his game really began to take shape. After one season with the club, Bautista came out of nowhere in 2010 with his monster 54 home run season. That year, he made a base salary of $2.4 million.
He proved he was no one-hit wonder in 2011, hitting 43 home runs that year, with 103 RBIs and a batting average of .302. He earned $8 million for his efforts in 2011. Bautista's performance declined slightly in 2012, but he still remained one of the club's top producers and earned $14 million.
Consider this: $14 millionsounds like a lot of money, but considering the lack of star power on the Blue Jays and the fact that Bautista accounts for almost 15 percent of the team's on-field performance, it is not. It doesn't even put him within $3 million of the top 25 highest paid players in the MLB.
17. Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta Falcons
Based on his first two seasons in the league, Athlon Sports rated the Falcons former first-round draft pick the eighth-best linebacker in the NFL for 2012. His 115 tackles were the 13th most in the league in 2011, ranking him above Brian Cushing, Desmond Bishop and E.J. Henderson. He also tacked on four sacks and already has three halfway through the 2012 season.
Weatherspoon is just midway through his rookie contract of $3.8 million, which runs through 2014. He did earn a roster bonus after the 2011 season, but is set to make $726,000 in 2012 and just over $1 million in 2013.
Considering he and Matt Ryan are both heading toward free agency in 2014, Weatherspoon shouldn't expect to be a top priority.
Consider this: Of the top six highest-paid running backs in the NFL, who are paid between $5.5 million and $9.9 million per year, Weatherspoon outperformed every one of them by a mile in 2011 except Chad Greenway.
16. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
Running back Darren Sproles is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game. His contributions measure far beyond just the numbers you see on the stat sheet—not that what you see on the stat sheet isn't impressive.
You've probably heard it a million times since he left the Chargers to sign with the Saints, but there's no denying that there's been something missing in San Diego in recent years.
Sproles pulls quadruple duty as a running back, wide receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner—and he has amassed thousands of yards at each position. He plays much bigger than his 5'6" stature, and in all of his positions in 2011, he combined for a total of 2,696 yards.
Consider this: Former Saints running back Reggie Bush was the No. 1 overall pick by the Saints in 2006. He signed a six-year deal worth $62 million, $26 million of which was guaranteed, and was a statistical disappointment who didn't put up anywhere near the numbers Sproles has in recent years. Even with the Dolphins, Bush is making $4.5 million in 2012, which is one million more than Sproles in New Orleans.
15. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have had 20 straight losing seasons, which means 20 years of nothing but aggravation, agony and straight-up anger for fans. So when it comes to the emergence of center fielder Andrew McCutchen's as a potential superstar, his value to the organization cannot be overstated.
We all know that one season does not make a career, but McCutchen has been on an upward trajectory since his rookie year in 2009. In his first three seasons, McCutchen's batting average stayed steady around .277, but his home run and RBI totals increased substantially.
In 2012, McCutchen had his breakout year and even made the Pirates look playoff-relevant for a few months. Of course, they fell short of the postseason, but McCutchen's 31 home runs, 96 RBIs and ridiculous .327 batting average finally provided the beleaguered Pirates fans a ray of hope.
Consider this: McCutchen played for around $450,000 in each of his first two seasons and $500,000 in 2012. The Pirates signed him to an extension that will pay him $4.5 million in 2012, $7.25 million in 2014 and will bump up each season through 2017. There's a decent chance that McCutchen will outplay that contract and that the Pirates will end up dumping him midway through, rather than renegotiating.
14. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
We all know what Anthony Davis did in college at Kentucky. We all know what he did as a member of the Team USA, subbing in for an injured Blake Griffin. And at this very moment, he's mere games into NBA career with the Hornets and we already know what this kid can do in the NBA.
There's no question that, barring any massive injuries, Davis is going to be a force to be reckoned with for well over a decade. Add that to the fact that with the loss of superstar Chris Paul, Davis is the new franchise cornerstone.
Through two games with New Orleans, "The Brow" has averaged 14.5 points per game, 6.5 rebounds, is 100 percent on his free throws and has a 56 percent field goal percentage. He's stealing, he's blocking, he's scoring, he's rebounding—in short, he's doing it all.
Consider this: Two games in and it's quite clear that Davis is the franchise player, yet he's the third highest-paid player on his own team behind Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson—fourth if you include the money on the books being paid to Rashard Lewis as part of a buyout. And over the first three years of his contract, Davis is earning just a fraction more than Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick and Al-Farouq Aminu.
13. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars haven't done anything of note in recent years besides lose a lot of games, but running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been the one bright spot on that sinking ship since 2006. He was drafted out of UCLA in the second round of the 2006 draft and has been a top-10—and often a top-three—running back in the NFL ever since.
On a team that is devoid of superstars, a viable quarterback and even fans, MJD has been the one guy who shows up week after week, year after year and plays every game like it has a purpose—even though most of them don't. This guy is the franchise, but his $4.45 million base salary in 2012 puts him behind Reggie Bush, Michael Turner and DeAngelo Williams. And well behind Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson.
Consider this: Whenever the discussion of relocation occurs, the Jaguars always top the list of potential teams. Jones-Drew has long been their biggest draw, but in 2012, the new ownership refused to negotiate with their franchise player.
12. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
In 2012, ESPN ranked Timberwolves superstar Kevin love as the seventh greatest player in the NBA today. Without splitting hairs, I think most of can agree that the kid as at least top 10. Love ranked just below Dwight Howard, who he is often compared to in master ability to rebound; both have averaged about 14 seasons per game the last two seasons.
There are a few differences between the two as well. First of all, Love is two years younger than Howard, which doesn't seem like a lot at 24 and 26 respectively, but it will make one heck of a difference in about six years. Second, Howard now plays on a team full of superstars, whereas Love plays in Minnesota where he is essentially the franchise.
Consider this: Love is slated to earn $13.7 million in 2012, $14.7 million in 2013, $15.7 million in 2014 with an option and a raise in 2014. That's approximately $43 million over three years. Howard will make over $19 million in 2012 alone.
11. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
In 2010, the Penguins signed superstar defenseman Kris Letang to a four-year deal worth $3.5 million per season, an inexplicably modest deal for one of the best two-way players in the NHL. Even after a semi-down year by his own standards, it's hard to imagine Letang wouldn't have commanded substantially more on the open market.
In fact, The Hockey Writers James Conley called Kris Letang the best bargain in the NHL in November 2011, and with very good reason.
It's true that Letang has missed plenty of time due to concussions, but that's hardly an issue unique to him these days. When healthy, he excels in every facet of the game, particularly in racking up assists for the offense; he had just under 100 assists over the last two seasons.
Consider this: The top defensemen in the NHL, of which Letang ranks among, earn between $5 and $8 million per season. Expect Letang to join their ranks when he negotiates his next contract in 2014, and expect the Penguins to pull out all the stops to keep him.
10. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Maybe it's going to be a tough sell convincing you that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is underpaid when he is due a base salary of $8 million in 2012, but I assure you he is. After sitting behind Brett Favre in Green Bay for three seasons, Rodgers finally got his turn to start in 2008 and immediately proved that he had what it took to replace a legend.
In his first four seasons as a starter, Rodgers has averaged 4,259 yards and 33 touch downs per season and has been a top-five quarterback each year. He won a Super Bowl in 2010 and followed it up with a record-breaking 2011 season. And despite a slow start overall for the Packers, he is on pace to do the same in 2012.
Despite his amazing success under the pressure of replacing a legend like Favre, Rodgers is still earning $10 million less than Peyton Manning in 2012. He is also paid substantially less than Michael Vick, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers.
Consider this: Rogers' salary of $8 million in 2012 puts him closer to the likes of Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford than Philip Rivers—the quarterback who is just above him in terms of earning.
9. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Giants catcher Buster Posey just capped the best year of his young career--one that included catching pitcher Matt Cain's perfect game--with his second World Series Championship. Making this feat all the more impressive, is it came after suffering a gruesome ankle injury from a violent home plate collision in 2011.
The 2012 All-Star raked in the awards after batting .336, with 24 home runs and 103 RBI's--winning the MLB Batting Title, NL Hank Aaron and NL Comeback Player of the Year awards.
Signed to a one year contract extension by San Francisco in May, earned a meager $615,000--an insane figure considering his impact on the field. Obviously the Giants were looking to protect themselves after Posey suffered such a serious injury; one that could very well have threatened his ability to be a full-time starter.
Considering what he showed in 2010, the team may have been too eager to hedge their bets. Keeping Posey is going to come at a steep price.
Consider this: Posey was the 37th highest paid catcher in the MLB, earning 15 percent of Pittsburgh Pirate Rob Barajas' $4 million salary, who is No. 11 on that list. Barajas played in 104 games and batted .206. Makes a lot of sense.
8. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
There is an ongoing debate about who the best point guard in the NBA is right now and, while there isn't a common consensus on a true No. 1, there is an elite group of five: Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo. Tony Parker and Steve Nash are still in the mix, but they are definitely aging out of the elite discussion.
Depending on who you ask, the Celtics' Rondo usually ranks anywhere between No.1 and No. 5, but his salary certainly doesn't put him among the ranks of the rest of the top four. In fact, he's the third highest player on his own team. Aging vets Paul Piece and Kevin Garnett are both slated to make more than Rondo in 2012.
Consider this: Looking at the salary numbers of the other superstars at his position is likely going to become an issue at some point. Over the next three years, Rondo will average $12 million per season, Williams will average $17.5 million, Westbrook will average $14.7 million, Rose will average $17.6 million and Paul will earn $17.8 million in 2012 before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
7. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays
Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist has been an under-the-rader stud in Tampa Bay for years. Since 2009, he has averaged 19 home runs per year, 83 RBIs and 89 runs. Zobrist has been a constant producer for the consistent Rays for most of his career.
In fact, in 2012, Zobrist outperformed nearly everyone else on the team statistically. His $4.5 million in salary represented just under 7 percent of the Ray's overall payroll, but his production accounted for 13.4 percent of their on-field performance.
Consider this: Teammate B.J. Upton's 2012 salary of $7 million represented nearly 11 percent of the Ray's overall payroll, but his production accounted for just 6.3 percent of the team's on-field performance.
6. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was drafted in the third round out of Miami in 2010 and quickly established himself as one of the most dominant players at his position in the NFL. The franchise signed him to a four-year deal worth $2.45 million, with a signing bonus of just over a half million. That means he's earning just over $500,000 per year for the life of his deal—well below the league average of $1.27.
There's no question that Graham has far outplayed his rookie contract after just two-and-a-half seasons. After a solid rookie season in 2010, Graham finished behind only Patriots stud Rob Gronkowski in total yards and touchdowns in 2011. And in 2012, even with a subpar season thus far for the Saints, Graham is still among the top five at his position.
Despite his breakout season in 2011 and continued level of production, there has been no talk of a new contract for their star tight end in New Orleans. At least not yet.
Consider this: In 2011 Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. earned just under $10 million and ranked 15th among tight ends in production. He is currently unemployed.
5. Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings
Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin initially hinted at contract discontent early in the summer of 2011, then he flat out requested a trade when the organization refused to address an extension. The Vikings also refused to consider an extension, and are probably regretting both decisions now, because Harvin's stock is way up halfway through the 2012 season.
Since being drafted out of Florida in the first round in 2009, Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson have accounted for pretty much all of the Vikings' offense, particularly after the loss of Sidney Rice in 2010. Including yards on kickoffs, Harvin has topped 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons in the NFL, twice nearing 2,000.
The young wideout has been productive, durable and one of the most consistent players at his position since entering the league. In fact, CBS Sports recently named Harvin their midseason MVP, yet in 2010 he is set to earn just $915,000.
Consider this: In 2011, Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson was unhappy with his contract, held out through training camp and had the second-worst season of his career. He was rewarded with a lucrative five-year contract worth $51 million. Imagine what Harvin is going to demand coming off what could be the best season of his career in the same situation.
4. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
The most maddening thing in professional sports is a talented player who is only sporadically productive. Flyers right wing Claude Giroux has been the exact opposite of that, and has the type of trajectory that makes general managers and coaches very happy.
Giroux played his first full season in Philadelphia in 2009-10, and finished the year with 47 points, 145 shots on goal and eight power play goals. The next season his points jumped to 76, shots on goal to 169 and he even added another eight power-play goals.
And then he really turned it on in 2011-12, finishing with 93 points, 242 shots on goal, six power-play goals and established himself as one of the most dominant forwards in the NHL. His leadership in the playoffs, particularly, was evident to everyone watching.
Consider this: In 2012, Giroux's coach Peter Laviolette called him the best player in the world, but the kid sure isn't paid like it. He earned just $3.75 million last season, which The Hockey Writers estimates is about $4 million less than he's worth. Giroux's contract is up in 2014 and he can expect a hefty raise.
3. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg is no doubt the future of the franchise. After a solid rookie season in 2010, he missed most of 2011 with an injury that required Tommy John surgery. You never know how a player is going to look coming back from such serious surgery, but Strasburg came back with a vengeance.
Forget the season-long hubbub about shutting him down after a certain among of time, because the time that he was actually on the mound was . Strasburg was 15-6, with 197 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.16. But while performance was money on the bank, but he certainly wasn't earning much compared to the other top pitchers in the game.
Strasburg earned $2 million in 2010, $2.5 million in 2011 and $3 million in 2012. He's scheduled for arbitration in 2013 and is committed to the Nationals through 2017. The team needs to pony up for this guy and make sure they keep him happy.
Consider this: Aging Yankees ace CC Sabathia and Strasburg had nearly identical seasons in almost every statistical category in 2012. Sabathia is slated to earn $23 million every season from 2010 through 2015, when his salary will be bumped to $25 million. He alone represents nearly 11 percent of the Yankees' bloated payroll. Strasburg represents just 3.4 percent of the Nationals' payroll.
2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
I can already hear the LeBron haters out there letting out a collective groan over the fact that the Heat standout superstar is considered underpaid. After all, LeBron James is set to make $17.5 million in 2012—the exact same salary as his teammate Chris Bosh and just a thousand more than Dwyane Wade. So he won't exactly have trouble making rent.
But the fact of the matter is that LeBron is far and away the best basketball player in the world and is playing for below market value in Miami because he cared more about winning championships than squeezing every last dollar out of his contract. James and Bosh are tied as the ninth highest-paid players in the NBA in 2012, but we all know he's not the ninth best player.
Consider this: In 2012, an aging Kobe Bryant is making over $10 million more than LeBron. Also making more than LeBron are Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Chris Paul.
1. Victor Cruz, New York Giants
The Giants took a chance on an undrafted free agent out of UMass in 2010 by inviting Victor Cruz to training camp. They probably weren't expecting much from him, but he did enough to make the team and they signed him to a three-year deal worth $1.22 million. Cruz made a base salary of $320,000 in 2010, $405,000 in 2011 and will make $490,000 in 2012.
An injury actually kept Cruz out for most of the 2010 season, but he came roaring back in 2011, recording 82 receptions for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished third in the NFL in total yards and his 18.7 average yards per catch was higher than any other receiver in the top 30.
You would think a breakout season like that in which the Giants won the Super Bowl would have made renegotiating Cruz's contract a top priority, but so far that hasn't been the case. They may be looking for that hometown discount, but the longer they wait on this, the less likely that is to happen.
Consider This: Oakland Raiders wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey, a first-round bust, is set to make $5.3 million in 2012—almsot $5 million more than Cruz.
Agree or Disagree?
Surely you have your own thoughts, feelings, or irrational rage over some of these selections. Follow me on Twitter and let me know what I did wrong.