2016 Overpaid/Underpaid List
The free market doesn't always value athletes properly, causing steep discrepancies between a player's salary and actual worth.
Nobody is going to feel sorry for an "underpaid" athlete, who still makes more in a year than a teacher or nurse will amass in a lifetime. Yet by sports' elevated earning potential, plenty of players make far less than they could and, in most cases, eventually will.
As for the guys overpaid beyond the typical "nobody should make that much money to play a game" condemnation, don't blame them for taking what they could get. They all worked hard to make it professionally and impress organizations.
Unforeseen circumstances sometimes turn a fair signing into a massive misstep. Other times, it only takes one team to set a gaudy price.
An important disclaimer before starting: Athletes playing on rookie contracts were not considered for this list. There are too many young stars to count who receive a lower compensation than they deserve, but they have simply yet to receive a negotiation opportunity.
In a couple of highlighted cases, however, MLB players signed extensions eating into and beyond their arbitration years. Since they delayed their free-agent eligibility, they're fair game.
Contract length was also considered. A washed-up veteran who will vanish from the payroll in one year isn't as overpaid as one still on the books for three or four years. By the same logic, an underpaid player with more time under team control is a better bargain.
One final note: The remaining contracts listed for NFL, NBA and NHL players include seasons in progress. With those guidelines out of the way, here's a look at the most overpaid and underpaid players in sports.
Overpaid: Brock Osweiler
Remaining Contract: Four Years, $72 Million
The Houston Texans are currently scrambling for their receipt in hopes of receiving a refund for Brock Osweiler.
Blame Brian Hoyer, who created a job opening by throwing four interceptions in their 30-0 Wild Card Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Eager to stabilize their passing offense, the Texans awarded the former Denver Broncos quarterback a four-year deal with $37 million guaranteed.
Osweiler's current cap hit will increase from $12 million to $19 million next year. That's the same rate set for Drew Brees and a higher one than Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Russell Wilson will accrue.
This wouldn't be a major problem if the 26-year-old delivered league-average production this season. Unfortunately for Houston, he has overseen the NFL's third-worst passing offense with 13 interceptions and a league-worst 5.77 yards per pass attempt.
Last year's revolving door of middling passers at least got the ball to DeAndre Hopkins. After collecting a career-high 1,521 receiving yards last year, the star wideout is down to 668 over a dozen games.
A solid passer would make the Texans a clear favorite to again win the uninspiring AFC South. (A healthy J.J. Watt would be nice, too.) With Osweiler derailing the offense during three straight losses, they're instead fading fast.
Underpaid: Tom Brady
Remaining Contract: Four Years, $71.8 Million
Seventeen NFL quarterbacks have a higher salary cap hit than Tom Brady this season. The list includes Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick.
It's tough to put a reasonable dollar amount on Brady's value to the New England Patriots. After participating in his 201st victory last weekend—including the playoffs—he became the winningest quarterback of all time.
A four-time Super Bowl champion with 503 career passing touchdowns—also counting the postseason—can command a blank check. He plays the most valued position in the world, the same one which allowed Andrew Luck to receive a six-year, $140-million extension following a mediocre, injury-plagued season.
Under his restructured contract, Brady took a pay cut this season and next to earn $22 million after his 40th birthday in both 2018 and 2019. As pointed out by NESN.com's Doug Kyed, the alterations also helped him lose less money during his four-game suspension to start the year.
Although currently sidelined, Rob Gronkowski is also on the books for a remarkably team-friendly contract through 2019. Notorious thrifty spenders, the Patriots are receiving tremendous bargains on two of football's most valuable players.
Overpaid: Pablo Sandoval
Remaining Contract: Three Years, $54.8 Million (Plus $17 million 2020 club option with $5 million buyout)
Two offseasons ago, Pablo Sandoval played a major part in earning his third ring with the San Francisco Giants. Wanting more hardware of their own, the Boston Red Sox signed him to a five-year, $95 million deal which has since proven disastrous.
In his first year, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 while playing the worst defense of his career. FanGraphs' minus-2.0 WAR identifies the third baseman as 2015's worst player.
As a result, he lost his starting job to Travis Shaw last spring. After seven hitless plate appearances, his season ended due to a shoulder injury.
Boston's bloated investment may cause the team to usher him back into an everyday role next year. Shortly after they traded Shaw to the Milwaukee Brewers for reliever Tyler Thornburg, the Red Sox shipped top prospect Yoan Moncada—who debuted at third base last season—to the Chicago White Sox for ace Chris Sale.
Photos have surfaced of a slimmed-down Sandoval, but it's not the first time he has lost weight before the season. Having already delivered below-replacement level production while raking in $34 million, he faces an uphill climb to salvage this deal's designation as an all-time dud.
Underpaid: Jose Altuve
Remaining Contract: Three Years, $17 Million (Includes 2018 and 2019 club options)
After batting .162 in 2014, Stephen Drew received a one-year, five-million deal from the New York Yankees. This year, Jose Altuve hit .338 with 24 home runs and 30 stolen bases while playing for $3.7 million.
Before morphing into a star, the second baseman signed a four-year extension with the Houston Astros. The arrangement avoided his arbitration years but also features club options of $6 million and $6.5 million for 2018 and 2019, respectively. Barring a catastrophic injury, the Astros will happily keep him on board for baseball's biggest bargain.
Over the past three seasons, Altuve has batted .331/.376/.481 with MLB's sixth-best WAR (16.2), per FanGraphs, among all position players. A pure contact hitter in his early days, the 5'6" stud generated a career-high .531 slugging percentage in 2016. He placed third on the American League MVP ballot.
If entering the open market now, he'd fetch well over $17 million per season. Since he'll turn 27 next year, eight years and $225 million is probably a tame projection for what he would make.
Instead of gearing up for that massive payday next winter, Altuve will provide the Astros with All-Star production for the price of a backup utility player.
Overpaid: Joakim Noah
Remaining Contract: Four Years, $72.59 Million
The NBA's unparalleled salary-cap rise completely altered the dynamic of player valuations. Potential overpays from prior years no longer look so bad, and the 2016 offseason's signings all seem atrocious compared to past precedents.
As a result, several recent contracts—Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, Ian Mahinmi—stand out as ludicrous deals. Having played six games since signing a max contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, Chandler Parsons nearly made the list. Yet the 28-year-old forward is still capable of justifying the hefty purchase if his knees cooperate.
The New York Knicks shouldn't hold out the same hope for Joakim Noah.
For reasons unknown to anyone besides Phil Jackson, they signed the 31-year-old center to a four-year deal after a shoulder injury limited him to 29 games last season. Here's a huge surprise: A battered, veteran big man has struggled to stay healthy, playing just 18 games this season.
At this rate, the Knicks are better off when he's wearing a suit. While robbing Kyle O'Quinn and Willy Hernangomez of deserved minutes, Noah is a scoring non-factor shooting a putrid 25.9 percent from the free-throw line.
While his unrelenting motor endeared Noah to Chicago Bulls fans, it also set an expiration date for a center whose body has struggled to hold up under the strain of playing every second at max effort. The Knicks had to know he wouldn't deliver a positive return for all four years, but they didn't count on him immediately turning into a major negative.
Underpaid: Isaiah Thomas
Remaining Contract: Two Years, $12.85 Million
After watching so many flawed role players reel in $15 million and more, the Boston Celtics paying Isaiah Thomas approximately $6.6 million this season becomes an ever greater steal in hindsight.
Two years ago, the 5'9" guard joined the Phoenix Suns for four years and $28 million as part of a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings. Oddly enough, this agreement occurred after he averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game, both career highs at the time.
As Boston's top scoring option, Thomas has registered 26.0 points per game this season. He's also the team's fifth-highest paid player, who is earning nearly $20 million less than the recently signed Al Horford.
Per CSN New England's A. Sherrod Blakely, the guard has no plans to keep playing for a discount once he hits the open market in 2018.
"They better bring out the Brinks truck," Thomas said in July. "They're paying everybody else. I gotta get something."
Wherever he winds up, Thomas warranted a considerable raise even before the league's cap increase. Now he'll have little trouble tripling his annual income.
Overpaid: Kari Lehtonen
Remaining Contract: Two Years, $11 Million
Kari Lehtonen continues to regress for the Dallas Stars.
In the second season of his five-year deal, the 2002 first-round pick crumbled with a 90.3 save percentage and 2.94 goals allowed against average. After not faring much better (90.6 save percentage, 2.76 goals allowed) in 43 games last season, he has continued to falter this season.
Relinquishing 2.90 goals per game with a career-worst 89.6 save percentage, he has led the Stars to six victories in 17 games. A year after notching 50 victories, they have coughed up a Western Conference-worst 89 goals and may miss the postseason altogether.
The below-average goaltender is not paid like one, tied with Semyon Varlamov for the position's 11th-highest cap hit for the 2016-17 campaign. Dallas needs a fresh start, but Lehtonen hampers its payroll for the next two years, preventing the team from investing on an upgrade to shield the net.
Underpaid: Devan Dubnyk
Remaining Contract: Five Years, $21 Million
In the summer of 2015, Devan Dubnyk hoped to earn a raise of his modest $800,000 salary before his opportunity vanished. Per Yahoo Sports' Josh Cooper, he described the anxiety every athlete experiences of optimizing his income during a limited career:
That earning window is small and sometimes there are opportunities, and they can go away on you. I almost had it go away completely last year. You have to understand that's an important part of it and that's part of your life as well, but you weigh both sides and understand that in a good situation, as long as it's fair, and it has to be fair, you're going to do everything you can to make sure it happens.
He did just that, solidifying long-term stability with a six-year, $26 million contract. At the time, his Minnesota Wild contract represented a massive raise for a goalie struggling to fortify his spot as a starting goalie.
Early in the 2016-17 season, it's instead a tremendous bargain for his employer.
Through 20 brilliant games, Dubnyk leads the NHL in save percentage (94.6), goals against average (1.65) and shutouts (four). According to Hockey-Reference.com, he has also earned a league-high 6.1 point shares.
Since joining Minnesota midway through the 2014-15 season, he's 72-41-11 with a 92.8 save percentage. He's a Vezina Trophy front-runner, but 21 goalies will earn a higher salary this season.
Overpaid: Albert Pujols
Remaining Contract: Five Years, $140 Million
Baseball's premier superstar for a decade, Albert Pujols earned an enormous 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. It's the type of deal only afforded to a no-doubt future Hall of Famer and three-time MVP winner.
During his prime years, he deserved far more. Now paid like a superstar, he no longer is one.
Formerly a perennial .300/.400/.500 slugger, he has batted .266/.325/.474 in five underwhelming seasons with the Angels. Despite tallying 31 homers and 119 RBI in 2016, FanGraphs credited him with 0.9 WAR due to brandishing a .323 on-base percentage as a regular designated hitter.
Pujols, who will turn 37 before 2017's Opening Day, will earn $140 million over the next five years. That compares to the deal recently signed by Yoenis Cespedes, a 31-year-old who hit .280/.354/.530 last season. The New York Mets didn't want to give the star outfielder a fifth year, but the Angels are still on the hook for five more, and their guy can no longer hit for plus contact or play the field.
This payroll albatross will make it increasingly difficult for the Angels to build a championship contender around superstar Mike Trout, who will net $119 million over the next four seasons before commanding an unprecedented payday. They're now stuck with a limited power hitter, plenty of which currently frequent the free-agent market.
Underpaid: Madison Bumgarner
Remaining Contract: Three Years, $35.5 Million (Includes $12 million club options in 2018 and 2019)
Every MLB offseason contains multiple signings which compel onlookers to encourage all parents to teach their children how to pitch. After all, Edinson Volquez received a two-year, $22 million contract from the Miami Marlins after posting a 5.37 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 2016.
Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner will get paid $11.5 million next season, an uptick from 2016's $9.75 million.
Baseball fans would struggle to identify players who have meant more to their team than Bumgarner has to the Giants. The star southpaw has thrown over 200 innings in each of the past six seasons, and he hasn't posted an ERA above 3.00 since recording a 3.37 mark in 2012. He has also factored prominently into three World Series wins, issuing a 2.11 ERA over 102.1 career postseason frames.
He earned his 2014 $3.75 million salary in the playoffs alone, allowing seven runs over 52.2 innings and shutting down the Kansas City Royals from the bullpen (on short rest) to close out Game 7 of the World Series.
If healthy—he has never went on the disabled list during his career—when his club options expire after the 2019 season, he'll still earn a massive payday at 29 years old. Yet he could have cashed a gigantic check now had he not signed a team-friendly extension in 2013.
Overpaid: Darrelle Revis
Remaining Contract: Four Years, $54.1 Million
Darrelle Revis' contract doesn't bear the same long-term consequences as others on the list, but the New York Jets cornerback certainly hasn't earned his $17 million this season.
The veteran has yet to snag an interception, but that's not because teams are shying away from him. A.J. Green started the 2016 season with 180 yards and a touchdown against Gang Green, and T.Y. Hilton went off for 146 yards in the Indianapolis Colts' Week 13's 41-10 blowout win.
According to Football Outsiders, the Jets' passing defense rank lasts in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). Opposing No. 1 wide receivers have averaged 83.1 receiving yards per game.
Unlike the other major sports, NFL owners and teams call the shots. While Revis' 2015 and 2016 salaries came fully guaranteed, the Jets can move on next season with little consequence. They can bail on his final three years, but would get smacked with a $6 million cap hit in 2017, which may prove enough of a penalty to keep him around.
The franchise could also pressure him into taking a pay cut to keep his job. Broached with that possibility last week, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, Revis gave a vague response.
"We'll see," Revis said. "We'll see what happens next year. We'll see. Lot of things going on. We'll see. We'll figure it out."
Barring a miraculous turnaround, Revis won't play out the entirety of his contract through 2019.
Underpaid: Stephen Curry
Remaining Contract: One Year, $12.1 Million
This will change soon. Stephen Curry only has one year remaining on a team-friendly contract which completely altered the NBA's landscape.
Even though his current deal expires next summer, its seismic value demands attention. During back-to-back MVP seasons, the Golden State Warriors point guard made a combined $22 million. Former teammate Harrison Barnes will receive the same amount from the Dallas Mavericks this season as he begins a four-year deal with an ascending annual salary.
A two-time MVP who averaged 30.1 points per game with a record-shattering 402 three-point makes is his team's fourth-highest earner. Because he's not yet netting the max contract he deserves, the perfect storm struck for Golden State to fit Kevin Durant onto its ledger.
Before painting him as a martyr purposefully taking less money for the team's benefit, remember that Curry was not yet a top-shelf superstar when signing a four-year, $44 million extension in 2012. In fact, he had missed most of the 2011-12 season due to ankle problems which lingered as a long-term concern.
He thus opted for a long-term safety net, a perfectly reasonable decision at the time. His meteoric rise has also led to supplementary endorsement earnings.
Any team with cap space will eagerly extend him a max-contract offer, but Curry has calmed anxious Warriors fans by indicating his desire to stay.
"Uh, yes. .... I want to be here," he said in September about his chances of remaining in Golden State, per ESPN's Marc Stein. "That's it."