10 NFL Stars Outplaying Their Contract

Kristopher KnoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2014

10 NFL Stars Outplaying Their Contract

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    With the 2013 NFL regular season now firmly in the rear view, it is a perfect time to take a look back at some of the league's more financially-friendly superstars.

    We're talking about the guys who produced big on the field this season, but who still present tremendous value based on their current contract. We're talking about those select few who could request a pay raise in the near future and be completely justified in doing so.

    Pay can vary greatly in the NFL, often based on position, tenure, past performance or draft status. Therefore, the criteria will be based on a few specific factors.

    To make our list, a player must be in the league's top 10 at his respective position in at least one major statistical category (think passing touchdowns or field-goal percentage) or have been named to this year's Pro Bowl. 

    The player cannot be one of the 25 highest-paid players at his respective position in terms of 2013 salary (based on total cap hit, which included bonuses).

    The player's total contract value cannot be among the 10 highest at his respective position, which will help to exclude front-or back-loaded deals.

     

    * All salary information via Spotrac.com

    ** All statistics via NFL.com

     

Vontaze Burfict

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    Cincinnati Bengals inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict led the NFL with an astounding 171 combined tackles in 2013.

    The second-year player out of Arizona State has already racked up 298 tackles, four sacks and 10 passes defended during his short NFL career. His production earned him a place in the 2014 Pro Bowl

    Yet, Burfict's earned just $480,333 in 2013, which was less than 84 other inside linebackers.

    A former undrafted free agent, Burfict is still playing under his rookie deal and is sure to merit consideration for a raise once he is eligible to negotiate a new contract after the 2014 season.

Greg Hardy

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    Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy might not yet be a household name, but he was certainly impressive enough in 2013 to justify a Pro Bowl selection

    The fourth-year defender ranked third in the league with 15 sacks—a total that also set a franchise record for sacks in a single season.

    Hardy also set a franchise record with four sacks in a single game, which is an impressive record considering Julius Peppers spent eight seasons with the Panthers earlier in his career.

    However, Hardy accounted for just $1.329 million in cap space in 2013, which was lower than the cap hit of 65 other NFL defensive ends.

    Expect the former sixth-round selection to receive quite a raise in 2014. Hardy is scheduled to become a free agent at the start of the new league year. 

Justin Tucker

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    No single player attempted more field goals during the 2013 regular season than Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker.

    Tucker connected on 38 of his attempts, which places him seventh in the league in field-goal percentage at 93 percent. This combination of workload and accuracy helped Tucker earn a spot on the 2014 Pro Bowl roster.

    His 61-yard game-winner against the Detroit Lions was a thing of beauty and helped show that Tucker can be one of the top kickers in today's game. 

    Tucker is not one of the game's highest-paid kickers, though. In fact, his 2013 salary accounted for a cap hit of just $480,000, which is tied for 30th in the league among kickers.

    To put that in perspective, just consider that the salary cap number for Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski in 2013 was $4.96 million, or a little more than 10 times what Tucker earned. 

Jordan Cameron

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    Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron exploded onto the scene in 2013 in his first season as a full-time starter.

    Cameron ranked third among all tight ends with 80 receptions, second with 917 yards receiving and sixth with seven touchdowns. His yards-per-game average of 61.1 was third behind only the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

    Yet, 48 tight ends earned more than Cameron in terms of total cap hit. Cameron accounted for just $674,350 in cap space, which was nearly $300,000 less than Browns backup tight end Gary Barnidge.

    A fourth-round pick in 2011, Cameron will be eligible to renegotiate his contract during the offseason. Coming off his first Pro Bowl season, he may choose to do just that. 

Junior Galette

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    New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette might not have earned a Pro Bowl spot in 2013, but he quietly put together quite an impressive season.

    Galette ranked sixth in the league with 12.0 sacks and added 40 combined tackles and a forced fumble.

    The former undrafted free agent is currently in the first year of a three-year $6.3 million deal. He already appears to be outplaying that contract in just his first season as a full-time starter.

    If Galette can continue to thrive under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Saints are likely to get every penny's worth out of his current contract. 

Russell Wilson

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    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has quickly established himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in today's NFL.

    He has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons in the league and has twice led his team to the postseason. His 26 touchdown passes in 2013 were tied for ninth in the league. His passer rating of 101.2 was seventh among players with at least 14 pass attempts.

    However, 51 quarterbacks ranked higher than Wilson in terms of salary cap hit in 2013. Wilson accounted for just $681,085 in cap money this season, or $33,915 less than Cleveland Browns third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer.

    Of course, Wilson's low salary is due to the fact that he is still in his rookie contract as a third-round pick. He will undoubtedly receive a hefty raise when he is able to renegotiate his deal following the 2014 season. 

Richard Sherman

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    It has only taken three years for Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman to establish himself as one of the best in the game.

    The former fifth-round pick out of Stanford led the league with eight interceptions in 2013 and added 49 combined tackles and a defensive touchdown.

    However, Sherman accounted for a salary cap number lower than that of 110 other cornerbacks, including teammate Walter Thurmond.

    Sherman signed a four-year, $2.222 million deal as a rookie and is likely to start asking for a pay bump in the very near future. Now that he has completed his third NFL season, he will be eligible to do so.

Nick Foles

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    Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles exceeded virtually all expectations in 2013. 

    In replacing Michael Vick, Foles helped turn the Eagles' season around and played a huge role in claiming the NFC East title.

    Foles posted an 8-2 record as a starter and his 27 touchdown passes made for the eighth-highest total in the league during the regular season. Even more impressive is the fact that Foles tossed just two interceptions on the year to go with his touchdown total.

    Foles is still playing under his rookie contract, which means he is nowhere near the list of highest-paid players. Foles made even less in 2013 than Russell Wilson, which is not too surprising. Foles was selected 13 spots after Wilson. 

    Foles' salary cap number of $655,880 was good for 52nd-highest among quarterbacks this past season. However, he is likely in line for a sizable pay increase if his impressive play continues next season. 

Daryl Smith

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    The only longtime veteran on our list, inside linebacker Daryl Smith made the most of his lone season with the Baltimore Ravens.

    Smith ranked eighth in the league with 22 passes defended, which was the second highest total among linebackers. He also added an impressive 123 combined tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown.

    Yet, Smith earned just $1.125 million on his one-year deal, which was less than 37 other inside linebackers.

    Originally a second-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2004, the 31-year-old linebacker has likely paved the way toward a more profitable contract in 2014. 

Josh Gordon

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    Despite missing two games due to suspension, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon managed to lead the league in a number of impressive categories in 2013.

    Gordon led all players with 1,646 yards receiving, 30 receptions of 20 yards or longer and nine receptions of 40-plus yards on the year. He did not fumble the football once.

    Consequently, Gordon was named to his first Pro Bowl.

    However, Gordon's salary cap number of $1.214 million was lower than 72 other wide receivers in 2013. He wasn't even the highest paid Browns receiver on the roster (Davone Bess earned $2.683 million).

    Gordon's relatively low salary is due to his status as a former supplemental second-round draft pick playing under his rookie deal.

    Should Gordon continue to thrive on the field and stay out of trouble off of it, expect him to become one of the league's highest-paid wideouts after the 2014 season.