Which players are a steal? Which are stealing money? Alex Marvez unveils his All-Overpaid and All-Underpaid teams for 2008.
In this first series, we look at 11 players on offense who have provided the best value for their teams. Some names you'll recognize, some you might not yet, but most likely, you will soon. Be sure to see the other slideshows of All-Underpaid (Defense), All-Overpaid (Offense) and All-Overpaid (Defense).
Don't blame the Patriots for paying Cassel the NFL-minimum salary of $455,000 in 2008. Because he hadn't started since high school, Cassel didn't have the chance to prove he was worth more after three NFL seasons. But Cassel is set for a major free-agent bonanza -- think at least $20 million guaranteed -- since doing a fine job replacing the injured Tom Brady and keeping New England (8-5) in the playoff hunt.
At 5-foot-7 and 208 pounds, Jones-Drew may not have the size to serve as an every-down feature back. But he continues to flourish in tandem with starter Fred Taylor, having scored a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns and already catching a career-best 50 passes at an NFL-minimum salary of $445,000. Jones-Drew received a $1.2 million signing bonus in 2006 with a rookie contract set to expire after next season.
The Giants are getting the services of "Earth, Wind and Fire" -- i.e. Jacobs and fellow running backs Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw -- for a song. The trio is earning a combined base salary of $1.95 million, with the bruising Jacobs leading the way at $927,000. The Giants will have to pay a lot more than that to keep Jacobs, who has 1,002 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, from leaving in 2009 as an unrestricted free agent.
With 59 catches in his first two NFL seasons, White was considered overpaid after signing a five-year, $7.3 million rookie contract with $4.8 million guaranteed. But the 2005 first-round pick has matured into one of the NFL's best wideouts. White already has posted his second consecutive 1,200-yard season in 2008 at a base salary of $805,000. His base salary in 2009 actually drops to $780,000, which will likely spur Atlanta to negotiate a new deal in the off-season.
The Bucs have gotten criticized for giving troubled players a second -- and sometimes third or fourth -- chance after off-field problems. But give Bryant credit for taking advantage of his opportunity after being shunned by NFL teams in 2007. Bryant's nine-catch 200-yard performance in Monday night's 38-23 loss to Carolina will garner him consideration for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. It also should make Bryant -- who is earning $605,000 in a 66-catch, 936-yard campaign so far this season -- a hot free-agent commodity in 2009.
Had he played tight end from the start of his college career at Wisconsin rather than quarterback and wide receiver, Daniels wouldn't have lasted until the fourth round of the 2006 draft. He also would have landed a more lucrative rookie contract than his current four-year, $2 million deal. Daniels has 56 catches for 673 yards and two touchdowns this season, which is nice production for a player with a $445,000 base salary.
Left tackles are usually among a franchise's highest-paid players. Not in Tampa Bay, where Penn is making just $445,000. He didn't even receive a signing bonus when signing with the franchise as an undrafted rookie in 2006. If the Bucs don't ink him to a contract extension, Penn should draw heavy interest in 2009 as a restricted free agent.
Three teams with a recent history of quality offensive lines -- Denver, San Diego and the New York Giants -- all released Clabo before the former college free agent found a home with Atlanta. Clabo has started 34 games the past three seasons at NFL minimum salaries, including a $445,000 wage in 2008, and never received a signing bonus. He will be a restricted free agent in 2009.
Patriots Hall of Fame guard John Hannah raves about Mankins, who is expected to reach his second consecutive Pro Bowl. Mankins can't plead poverty, having received a $4 million signing bonus as a 2006 first-round draft choice. But considering the free-agent market for guards, Mankins has far outplayed a rookie deal with base salaries of $600,000 for 2008 and $700,000 for 2009.
Vincent has started for three other teams (Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Arizona) but may have found a permanent home as Carolina's starting right guard after signing a modest two-year, $1.95 million contract during the off-season. The strength of Carolina's running game is to the right behind Vincent and rookie tackle Jeff Otah, who has benefited from the former's tutelage. Vincent received a $400,000 signing bonus from the Panthers and has a $785,000 base salary.
Ravens first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron believes an offensive line is built from the inside-out, making center the unit's most important position. That's why he converted the talented Brown from guard.
The move paid dividends, as Baltimore (9-4) fields the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing offense. The next step is for Baltimore to financially reward Brown or risk losing him in free agency. He is currently playing under a one-year, $1.4 million contract as a restricted free agent.