Every NFL Team's Most Overpaid and Underpaid Player
Managing and building a successful NFL roster is rooted in the art of bargain hunting.
First, the savvy general manager needs to hit a bull's-eye during the draft. When that happens, a team benefits from four years of quality production from a player who is cheaply secured under his rookie contract.
Then the delicate work of timing comes into play. Ideally, the budding megastar is signed to an extension that looks affordable a few years from now once the market has caught up.
That's the most rosy and dreamy scenario, however, and the reality is that for every cheap and fast-blossoming rookie, there's usually a contract weighing down the roster. Let's take a trip around the NFL to reveal the most overpaid and underpaid players on every team.
Note that we're focusing on 2017 base salaries. That's the best way to level the playing field since NFL contracts are often structured to be year-to-year deals with guaranteed money running out fast.
All contract details via Spotrac.
Most Overpaid: Carson Palmer ($15.5 million)
It would be easier to stomach quarterback Carson Palmer's contract for 2017 if he was in his prime. But it makes you groan pretty loudly because Palmer is entering his age-37 season and saw his per-attempt passing average fall from 8.7 in 2015 to 7.1 in 2016.
Most Underpaid: Markus Golden ($791,212)
Outside linebacker Markus Golden is what it looks like when a team nails a second-round pick and then develops him properly. The result is top-tier pass-rushing production for several seasons all while paying Golden the equivalent of Monopoly money during his rookie contract.
Golden recorded 12.5 sacks in 2016 and is the only player from the 2015 draft class with 50-plus pressures in each of his first two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.
Running back David Johnson could have easily been slotted in here too. He blew up for 2,118 yards from scrimmage in 2016 and will now be paid a base salary of only $615,000.
Most Overpaid: Brooks Reed ($4.1 million)
The Atlanta Falcons signed defensive end Brooks Reed to a five-year contract in 2015 worth $22 million. The hope was he could be a quality rotational contributor. Now two years into that deal, Reed has given the Falcons just two sacks.
Most Underpaid: Vic Beasley ($615,000)
Outside linebacker Vic Beasley will be showered with riches soon enough when his league-leading 15.5 sacks in 2016 earn him a lucrative extension. That's assuming, of course, he continues to be a consistent source of pocket pressure going forward and doesn't regress to his 2015 form, when the then-rookie recorded just four sacks.
Most Overpaid: Terrell Suggs ($4 million)
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was still impressively effective at his age in 2016, a season when the 34-year-old recorded eight sacks and 35 tackles. But he'll turn 35 midway through the 2017 season and has torn his Achilles twice. The end can come abruptly when the NFL has punished a physically violent player like Suggs for 14 years.
Most Underpaid: C.J. Mosley ($1.6 million)
C.J. Mosley is one of the NFL's most promising young inside linebackers. He has the speed and instincts to thrive against both the run and pass. He's recorded 342 tackles over 46 regular-season games (an average of 7.4 per game). The 25-year-old also snatched four interceptions in 2016.
He'll get his payday soon. For now, the Ravens will keep soaking up Mosley's Pro Bowl-caliber production at a dollar-store price.
Most Overpaid: Charles Clay ($4.5 million)
It's such a strange world we live in when Charles Clay's base salary places him among the 10 highest-paid tight ends in 2017. Even more bizarre, his paycheck for the year puts him narrowly ahead of the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski ($4.25 million) and the Titans' Delanie Walker ($4.2 million).
This is a good time to remember that Clay has had two fine but less than spectacular seasons since joining the Buffalo Bills. He's recorded 1,080 yards on 108 catches with seven touchdowns. What has Gronkowski done over that same period? He's posted 1,716 yards on 97 catches with 14 touchdowns, even while missing nine games because of injury.
Most Underpaid: Sammy Watkins ($690,000)
Yes, Sammy Watkins has the durability of your favorite coffee mug, the one that was knocked onto the floor the other day by the dog's tail. The wide receiver has missed 11 games over the past two seasons and has struggled to shake recurring foot issues.
But he has the speed and route-running ability to put up explosive numbers and in the process give the Bills a tremendous bargain. If Watkins can stay even remotely healthy, the Bills will essentially be paying him bread crumbs in 2017 for high-end production. That's what happened in 2015 when Watkins caught 60 balls for 1,047 yards (17.5 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns.
Most Overpaid: Cam Newton ($13.2 million)
Cam Newton is slightly overpaid relative to what some of his quarterback peers are pocketing in 2017. He's coming off a disastrous 2016 season that made his MVP run the year before seem like a distant memory. Newton had career single-season lows in completion percentage (52.9) and per-attempt passing average (6.9).
He's still a uniquely skilled quarterback with his running ability. But if he doesn't have a bounce-back season in 2017, it'll sting even more when Newton gets a larger paycheck than the Saints' Drew Brees ($13 million), the Seahawks' Russell Wilson ($12.6 million) and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers ($12.6 million).
Most Underpaid: Trai Turner ($1.8 million)
Trai Turner is still a spry 24 years old, and he's been selected to the Pro Bowl in two of his three NFL seasons. He's a walking, breathing and mauling example of crushing a late third-round pick, as Turner has already matured into one of the league's best guards.
He's reached that status while likely not even close to his prime years yet. That's why Turner won't be underpaid for long as he enters a contract year in 2017. Extension talks have started, according to a report from Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, though agreeing on a number won't come cheaply for the Panthers. The guard market is suddenly booming after the Cleveland Browns, for example, gave Kevin Zeitler $23 million guaranteed in free agency.
Most Overpaid: Mike Glennon ($8 million)
If there's a season (any season at all) when quarterback Mike Glennon is the highest-paid player on a team, something has gone seriously wrong.
The Chicago Bears aren't locked in long term with Glennon, which is the only somewhat redeeming quality about his contract. He's essentially playing under a series of three one-year deals, with the contract structured so Chicago can escape after Glennon is done keeping a seat nice and toasty for Mitch Trubisky.
Still, giving a base salary of $8 million and $18.5 million guaranteed to a quarterback who has attempted 11 regular-season passes since 2015 is a horrible idea.
Most Underpaid: Leonard Floyd ($1.2 million)
Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd will probably be the Bears' most underpaid player for the next four years. The Bears didn't whiff on their ninth overall pick in 2016 and can now keep Floyd's salary hovering around bargain levels for the remaining three years of his rookie contract, plus the fifth-year option if they pick it up.
Early signs indicate Floyd can quickly develop into a high-impact pass-rusher. He recorded seven sacks over just 12 games as a rookie, though the two concussions he suffered are a concern.
Most Overpaid: Michael Johnson ($3.6 million)
Michael Johnson had a one-year pit stop with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014 before the Cincinnati Bengals brought the defensive end back to where his career began. Only they understand why that decision was made and why they continue to dump money onto Johnson.
He's recorded just one double-digit sack season in his career, and it came way back in 2012. And now after returning to the Bengals, he's totaled only 8.5 sacks over the past two years.
Most Underpaid: Vontaze Burfict ($3.8 million)
Vontaze Burfict has struggled to stay on the field because of injuries and a suspension. But when he's healthy and even sort of behaving, Burfict is one of the NFL's most versatile 4-3 linebackers. His rise started in 2013 when he led the league with 171 tackles. And he's averaged 8.3 tackles per game over the past two seasons while also hauling in four interceptions.
The Bengals are getting all that production at an affordable price because they took a risk on a promising young prospect with character concerns. Sound familiar? It probably does because the Bengals do it nearly every year.
Most Overpaid: Brock Osweiler ($16 million)
The Cleveland Browns didn't really trade for Brock Osweiler. They paid $16 million for the Houston Texans' second-round pick in 2018, and Osweiler just happened to be the human embodiment of that pick.
He's still on their roster, though, and for one year the cap-rich Browns will pay him an obscene amount of money. Whether Osweiler earns his money while on the Browns' roster is a question that will be answered over the summer.
Osweiler threw 16 interceptions in 2016 and averaged only 5.8 yards per pass attempt. The 26-year-old may still be given a chance to beat out DeShone Kizer for the starting quarterback job in Cleveland, and he'll surely embarrass himself.
Most Underpaid: Isaiah Crowell ($2.7 million)
The Browns have a steal in Isaiah Crowell for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, they didn't need to use a draft pick to obtain his power-running services, as he went undrafted in 2014. He has scored 20 touchdowns over his first 48 career regular-season games to prove he was overlooked.
Which brings us to the second reason for Crowell's steal status. The Browns can still pay him like an undrafted player for one more year while potentially getting top-tier production.
Crowell knocked on the door of the 1,000-yard plateau in 2016 (he finished at 952 yards) while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He has plenty of prime years ahead at the age of 24, and in 2017 Crowell will have only the 14th-highest base salary among running backs.
Most Overpaid: Tyrone Crawford ($7.3 million)
The Dallas Cowboys had a vanilla-flavored pass rush in 2016. It was fine at times, and they generated enough pressure to finish 13th in sacks with 36. But a contending team needs to reach a much higher level, and defensive end Tyrone Crawford is being paid to get them there.
He's failed too often, with only 9.5 sacks in the two seasons since the 27-year-old signed a contract that guaranteed him $24.7 million. Now his base salary spikes from $1.3 million to $7.3 million in the third year of that deal, making the hurt go even deeper for a cap-crunched Cowboys team.
Most Underpaid: Dak Prescott ($540,000)
Dak Prescott is a rare gem in many ways. A rookie quarterback isn't supposed to make completing passes in the NFL look easy. He's supposed to have his teeth rearranged first and then his mind as he figures the league out.
But in 2016, Prescott completed 67.8 percent of his pass attempts and threw just four interceptions on his way to being named the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Now after striking gold with their fourth-round pick, the Cowboys get to pay Prescott pennies for the next few years and build a quality team around him while not being weighed down by a quarterback-contract anchor.
Most Overpaid: C.J. Anderson ($2.9 million)
C.J. Anderson's 2016 season was cut short due to a torn meniscus, and he appeared in only seven games. But now after the addition of Jamaal Charles he'll be part of a crowded Denver Broncos running back depth chart, one that also includes Devontae Booker, who could rise in his second NFL season.
A time share and committee between the three seems inevitable then. And Anderson will still collect a paycheck that has him only a tick behind the Saints' Mark Ingram ($3 million base salary), who has logged 655 more rushing yards over the past two seasons.
Most Underpaid: Shane Ray ($1.3 million)
Character red flags were planted all over outside linebacker Shane Ray when he was charged with marijuana possession days before the 2015 draft. The Broncos took a risk by using their first-round pick on him.
They've been repaid with 12 sacks over two seasons from Ray, even during limited snaps in a rotational role. Ray was on the field for 58 percent of the Broncos' defensive snaps in 2016, according to Pro Football Reference, and 31 percent in 2015.
Now as his role increases, the Broncos get to keep benefiting from their character gamble as they pay a rapidly maturing pass-rusher a fraction of what Von Miller is getting on the other side ($17 million in 2017).
Most Overpaid: Marvin Jones ($7 million)
The Detroit Lions made wide receiver Marvin Jones their marquee signing during the 2016 free-agency period, inking the former Bengal to a five-year contract worth $40 million. With that money, they politely asked Jones to be their No. 1 receiver and fill the void left by Calvin Johnson.
Jones then promptly showed he wasn't up to the task.
An offense's top receiver doesn't necessarily need to blow up every week, though that would be nice. He does, however, need to be a consistent difference-making presence. And in 2016 Jones went off for 408 receiving yards during his first three games, then managed only 522 yards over the next 12.
Most Underpaid: Eric Ebron ($1.6 million)
Eric Ebron has a medical history longer than most Ikea assembly instructions. He was banged up for much of 2016, too, but the 24-year-old still managed to stay on the field to finish with 711 receiving yards, good enough for eighth among tight ends.
Now he'll head into 2017 with a base salary that ranks 32nd at his position.
Green Bay Packers
Most Overpaid: Randall Cobb ($8.6 million)
Randall Cobb's breakout 2014 season is now a distant memory. That's when the Green Bay Packers wide receiver erupted for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, which earned him a four-year contract worth $40 million he signed in March 2015.
He'll now enter 2017 with the fifth-highest base salary among receivers, and Cobb hasn't come close to justifying that investment since busting out in 2014. He averaged just 51.8 yards per game in 2015 and 46.9 in 2016.
Most Underpaid: Aaron Rodgers ($12.6 million)
I don't need to say much to remind you that Aaron Rodgers is a generational talent. I'll just remind you that if we zoom in on his recent greatness, Rodgers has thrown 109 regular-season touchdown passes since 2014. And during that same three-year stretch he's thrown only 20 interceptions. In fact, Rodgers hasn't recorded a double-digit interception season since 2010.
And yet he'll enter the 2017 season with a base salary that makes him only the league's 14th-highest-paid quarterback. Worse, his average annual salary of $22 million now ranks seventh after the Oakland Raiders signed Derek Carr to his mega-extension.
Most Overpaid: Brian Cushing ($5.5 million)
Brian Cushing isn't quite the maniac sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker he once was in his prime. Repeatedly shredding important muscles and breaking bones tends to slow you down over time, and Cushing's body has taken several round trips to hell and back. Since 2012 he's torn an ACL, broken his fibula and partially torn his MCL.
Cushing missed three games and recorded only 65 tackles in 2016, and is now entering his age-30 season.
Most Underpaid: Jadeveon Clowney ($690,000)
Jadeveon Clowney maybe hasn't quite made his rookie contract look insulting yet because of his early-career injuries. But that day is coming fast if he can keep staying on the field.
The defensive end has missed 17 games over his three NFL seasons. But in 2017, he started to look like the wrecking-ball pass-rusher the Texans drafted him to be in 2014. Clowney recorded six sacks and came on strong near the end of the year with three sacks over his final three regular-season games. He also finished with 41 total pressures and 27 defensive stops, per PFF.
Most Overpaid: Frank Gore ($3.5 million)
Frank Gore is a legend and a future Hall of Famer. He's a running back with no regard for the standard age rules of his position. We assume even the most accomplished running backs will turn into dust after their 30th birthday. Yet there was Gore at the age of 34 posting his ninth career 1,000-plus-yard season in 2016. Gore is now eighth all-time in career rushing yards and only 619 yards away from the top five.
The problem is that Gore's career longevity doesn't come with much short-term value. The 2017 version of Gore is a running back fresh off a season when he plodded along for only 3.9 yards per carry, and in 2015 he averaged 3.7 yards. There's a cloud of dust element to Gore's running now, and that's not worth making him the fifth-highest-paid player on the Colts roster for 2017.
Most Underpaid: Jack Doyle ($1 million)
Tight end Jack Doyle re-signed with the Colts in March, and the three-year deal he inked for $18.9 million could look like a bargain fast. The 27-year-old is blooming late, but he emerged when given an opportunity. He has 793 career receiving yards, and 584 of them came in 2016 along with five touchdowns.
Most Overpaid: Allen Hurns ($7 million)
Allen Hurns cashed in by turning his breakout 2015 season (64 catches for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns) into a four-year contract worth $40.7 million, with $20 million guaranteed. Then he made the Jaguars immediately regret the contract by producing only 477 yards on 35 catches in 2016.
In fairness, Hurns missed three games and was limited in others because of a hamstring issue. He needs to stay healthy and redirect his career, or he will risk becoming a shining example of why it's often best to wait on young players before offering a bank-busting extension.
Most Underpaid: Telvin Smith ($1.8 million)
Telvin Smith has been a discount-rack superstar throughout his career. The Jaguars struck gold with their fifth-round pick in 2014 by drafting the linebacker at 144th overall. In the three years since, his 269 tackles lead the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference. And by a wide margin, too, as the Panthers' Luke Kuechly is second with 254.
Kuechly will make $7.4 million in 2017, and Smith is still waiting on his well-earned extension as he gets set to enter the final year of his rookie contract.
Kansas City Chiefs
Most Overpaid: Tamba Hali ($5.8 million)
Tamba Hali played only 593 snaps in 2016. He was still highly effective in a rotational role, as Hali recorded 43 pressures while being on the field for just 368 pass-rushing snaps, according to Eric Eager of Pro Football Focus.
However, even if he's making that solid contribution, his paycheck for 2017 is still tough to stomach. Hali is 33 years old now, and fellow Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford is ascending fast.
Most Underpaid: Dee Ford ($957,704)
Speaking of Ford, his sack total shot up from four in 2015 to 10 in 2016. And his snap count went up accordingly too, as the Chiefs trotted Ford (799 snaps) out far more often than Hali (593 snaps), per Pro Football Reference.
The Chiefs picked up his fifth-year option, and now they hope Ford keeps doing a whole lot for little money by pass-rushing standards for the next two seasons.
Los Angeles Chargers
Most Overpaid: Antonio Gates ($4.5 million)
Antonio Gates is a 37-year-old tight end likely entering his final NFL season. Sure, his smooth hands can still be relied on during short-yardage and goal-line situations, which led to seven touchdowns in 2016. But he'll now slip down the depth chart, as ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams expects Hunter Henry to take over as the Chargers' primary tight end and Gates to be used in a specialized role on third downs and in the red zone.
Gates can still make an important contribution in that role while vaccuming up touchdown receptions. But he was already on the field for only 54.9 percent of the Chargers' offensive snaps in 2017, per Pro Football Reference. Now that snap count will surely decrease further, and Gates will still be among the 10 highest-paid tight ends.
Most Underpaid: Hunter Henry ($740,014)
Henry finished his rookie season with 478 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. And he did it all while essentially in a platoon situation with Gates, sharing nearly equal snaps. Henry was on the field for only 54.9 percent of the Chargers' snaps as a rookie, and he still finished tied for first among tight ends in touchdowns.
Los Angeles Rams
Most Overpaid: Robert Quinn ($6.2 million)
Robert Quinn's breakout 2013 season is now fading away. That's when the Los Angeles Rams defensive end threatened the single-season sack record, coming 3.5 sacks shy in finishing with 19. Quinn then had a fine though less-than-spectacular 2014 season with 10.5 sacks, and he earned a contract extension worth $57 million.
It's been a steady descent downward since that sweet, sweet pay day, with Quinn struggling to stay on the field. He's missed 15 games over the past two seasons and been limited to only nine sacks.
Most Underpaid: Aaron Donald ($1.8 million)
This should change soon, as eventually the Rams will give defensive tackle Aaron Donald the extension he very much deserves. Donald skipped OTAs in protest, showing he wants long-term security now.
But even when the Rams treat Donald like one of the league's most consistently disruptive interior linemen, they'll still have him cheaply under team control for 2017 and 2018 after making the no-brainer decision to pick up his fifth-year option.
Donald has already recorded 28 sacks over only 48 career games.
Most Overpaid: Julius Thomas ($5.5 million)
There are plenty of reasons to believe the old Julius Thomas can return in 2017 after signing with the Miami Dolphins.
First, the tight end has been reunited with Adam Gase, the Dolphins head coach who was the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator when Thomas caught 24 touchdown passes over 27 games during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. And Thomas should now benefit from better quarterback play while removing the shackles placed on his production by the Jaguars' Blake Bortles.
Still, Thomas has been chronically injured, and especially during his two seasons with the Jaguars. The 27-year-old has never played a full season, missing 16 games since the start of 2013. Making him the fifth-highest-paid tight end in 2017 might end in tears if his brittle ways continue.
Most Underpaid: Jay Ajayi ($615,000)
Jay Ajayi is still only halfway through his rookie contract, which means a running back who incredibly posted three 200-plus-yard rushing games in 2016 will keep being paid like a scrub clinging to a roster spot.
Most Overpaid: Sharrif Floyd ($6.8 million)
The Minnesota Vikings have gone through some gut-punching luck with defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
They made the decision to pick up his fifth-year option, which now has him set to be the 10th-highest-paid defensive tackle in 2017. It's a year when Floyd is scheduled to make only marginally less than fellow defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Bengals' five-time Pro Bowler who will pocket $7.3 million.
And Floyd will make that money while likely missing a sizable chunk of the season. He's expected to start 2017 on the physically unable to perform list, according to Matt Vensel off the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Earlier in the offseason, USA Today's Tom Pelissero reported Floyd's career might be in jeopardy because of a persistent nerve issue in his knee.
Most Underpaid: Stefon Diggs ($615,000)
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs has had trouble staying off the injury report at times; he's missed six games over two seasons. But he's produced steadily, especially when that missed time is factored in. Diggs has recorded 1,623 career receiving yards, and his 84 receptions placed him in the top 15 among all wide receivers in 2016.
Now he's halfway through his rookie contract, and for the third straight year Diggs will make less than $650,000.
New England Patriots
Most Overpaid: Stephon Gilmore ($4.5 million)
Finding an overpaid player on the New England Patriots is an exercise rooted in hair-splitting. The Patriots manage the salary cap wisely, and in the trademark, cold Patriot way they often cut aging and expensive veterans before their contracts become anchors.
Which leads us to the Stephon Gilmore contract.
The Patriots were uncharacteristically aggressive in their pursuit of Gilmore during free agency. They chucked money around with a clear purpose, knowing that although he's aging gracefully, quarterback Tom Brady may only have a few more years of peak performance left. That increases the urgency to surround him with a quality defense, which meant dumping cash on Gilmore.
And Gilmore will likely justify the $40 million in guaranteed money he'll receive. But the Patriots took a risk of some significance with a streaky cornerback; his 2016 season is a fine example of his at times uneven play. Sure, Gilmore snatched a career-high five interceptions. But he was also beaten deep often for over half the year, per PFF (h/t Clint Brooks of Bills Wire), and gave up an overage of 17.8 yards per reception over the first nine games.
Most Underpaid: Rob Gronkowski ($4.25 million)
Rob Gronkowski is a generational talent who already sits fifth all time in tight end touchdowns, and he's still only 28 years old. He's also logged 1,100-plus receiving yards in a season three times and averaged 21.6 yards per reception in 2016.
Yet he'll still make less than the Bills' Charles Clay in 2017. Gronkowski recently agreed to a restructured contract filled with incentives that could see his 2017 base salary jump as high as $10.75 million. But the fact he starts in Clay territory makes Gronkowski's contract one of the league's most lopsided deals.
New Orleans Saints
Most Overpaid: Coby Fleener ($5.8 million)
Tight end Coby Fleener is starting to smell like a free-agent bust after only one season with the New Orleans Saints. In 2016, he was signed to a five-year contract that guaranteed him $18 million. Then during the first year of that deal, he scored just three times and averaged only 39.4 receiving yards per game.
Most Underpaid: Michael Thomas ($682,681)
Michael Thomas became an immediate example of smacking a second-round pick over the fence. The Saints selected him with their 47th overall pick in 2016, and he quickly proceeded to make franchise history in pretty much every rookie receiving metric.
Thomas established new Saints rookie records for receiving yards (1,137), receptions (92) and touchdowns (nine). And at 24 years old he's likely not close to his talent ceiling yet. He'll get there while providing high-end production for low-end dollars.
New York Giants
Most Overpaid: Eli Manning ($13 million)
The weight of Eli Manning's contract is getting difficult to bear, even by the high-paying standards for quarterbacks. The New York Giants quarterback is fading at the age of 36, and in 2016 he posted a per-attempt passing average of only 6.7 yards. It was his lowest single-season average since back in 2007.
Most Underpaid: Odell Beckham Jr. ($1.8 million)
Odell Beckham Jr. is hilariously underpaid. In 2016, he became the fastest player in league history to reach the 3,500-yard mark, cruising past that plateau during just his 36th career game. He's soared to previously unfathomable heights, recording 4,122 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns over only three seasons.
Yet in 2017, he's scheduled to make less money than Marquise Goodwin, Ted Ginn Jr. and Jermaine Kearse, to name a few. Beckham will get the financial respect he deserves soon.
New York Jets
Most Overpaid: Matt Forte ($4 million)
Matt Forte is a 31-year-old running back whose career has begun to do laps around the drain. He's faced a lot of physical punishment while enduring 2,770 career touches. In 2016, Forte didn't have nearly as much power through the hole, stumbling along to only 3.7 yards per carry.
The structure of Forte's contract saved him from being part of the Jets' offseason veteran purge. The team owes him his $4 million in 2017 whether he's on the roster or not, so the Jets kept him and will try to get something for their money.
It rarely ever ends well when a running back on the wrong side of 30 years old is among the top-10 highest-paid players at his position.
Most Underpaid: Leonard Williams ($615,000)
Leonard Williams has become one of the league's most versatile defenders along the defensive line, excelling against both the pass and run. During just his second season in 2016, he finished tied for third among defensive tackles with seven sacks and fourth with 68 tackles.
He'll cash in soon enough with a mega extension. But for now the rebuilding Jets can keep seeing their dollar go far with Williams.
Most Overpaid: Sebastian Janikowski ($4.1 million)
Sebastian Janikowski is a cannon-legged ball-launcher. He's been sending footballs into orbit since 2000 for the Oakland Raiders, and in 2016 he recorded his 10th career 100-plus point season. He's steady and reliable with a career field goal conversion rate of 80.4 percent.
He's still a kicker, though, and it's tough to defend a $4 million-plus base salary for any kicker. His paycheck towers over the field in 2017, too, as Janikowski will make nearly $1 million more than any other player at his position.
Most Underpaid: Derek Carr ($5 million)
Derek Carr just signed a massive extension that put him alongside the league's richest quarterbacks where he belongs. Carr will make $125 million over the five-year deal, and $70 million of that is guaranteed, according to USA Today's Tom Pelissero.
But the real meat of that contract doesn't kick in until 2018. Which means the Raiders get one more season of having a franchise quarterback locked into a cellar-dwelling base salary. His base salary for 2017 will rank only 21st among quarterbacks.
Most Overpaid: Vinny Curry ($7 million)
The Philadelphia Eagles locked up Vinny Curry, their rising young pass-rusher, in 2016 to a mammoth five-year deal worth $47.3 million, with $23 million guaranteed. Then he responded with just 2.5 sacks in 2016, and now Curry will likely lose some snaps after the Eagles brought in defensive end Chris Long during free agency.
Most Underpaid: Chris Long ($1 million)
Long could end up being the classic veteran whose production far exceeds hiss paycheck. That's what he was for the Patriots in 2016, as the then 31-year-old was rejuvenated and recorded 57 pressures, per PFF.
Most Overpaid: Le'Veon Bell ($12.2 million)
Le'Veon Bell fully deserves to be the league's highest-paid running back. That's not debatable, as Bell is somehow still only 25 years old, and the former second-round pick has already been to two Pro Bowls while recording an average of 128.8 yards from scrimmage per game.
He just doesn't need to be paid a base salary that nearly doubles the paycheck given to every other running back. With the position's shifting and often shrinking market, it's difficult to sign off on that paycheck for any running back, even one as talented as Bell.
Bell will inevitably sign his franchise-tag tender and report to training camp. Then the Steelers should make his annual salary a more manageable number by giving Bell the long-term security he's earned.
Most Underpaid: Ryan Shazier ($1.7 million)
When you picture the modern NFL linebacker who seems a little undersized for the position but still packs a mean punch and is solid in coverage, you're picturing Ryan Shazier.
Shazier is 6'1" and 230 pounds, and he can produce some jaw-rearranging hits. He's averaged 6.2 tackles per game over his three NFL seasons, and has recorded seven sacks. Even more impressively, Shazier also finished 2016 with three interceptions and nine passes defensed.
He's struggled through injuries at times, missing 14 games. The Steelers surely want to see him stay healthy before making a long-term commitment. They did exercise his fifth-year option, however, and now have Shazier under team control through 2018 at a modest $10.43 million.
San Francisco 49ers
Most Overpaid: NaVorro Bowman ($6.75 million)
NaVorro Bowman was once a rare breed among NFL linebackers.
The San Francisco 49ers legend redefined the position with his lateral speed and often acted like a third safety when dropping back in coverage. Bowman has recorded four career interceptions, 26 passes defensed and four seasons with 140-plus tackles.
But that Bowman is gone now, or he'll likely be gone soon. The 29-year-old has been zapped of his signature athleticism by two severe injuries. The first was a torn ACL and MCL during the 2014 playoffs. He missed the following season but then returned in 2015 to remarkably look like the Bowman who was known and feared throughout the NFL. He finished 2015 with a career-high 154 tackles.
Then in 2016 he tore his Achilles. Eventually the four-time All-Pro will become too expensive, and too drained by injuries, and the 49ers will have no choice but to move on. That time could come soon, especially after new general manager John Lynch traded up in the 2017 draft to select Reuben Foster, who will replace Bowman at middle linebacker.
Most Underpaid: DeForest Buckner ($1.3 million)
The 49ers defense was throttled every week in 2016 while giving up an average of 406.4 yards per game. But the one shining bright spot was defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who consistently created disruption in the opposing backfield.
As a rookie he finished third among all defensive tackles with 73 tackles and recorded six sacks from the interior. The 49ers will now watch him keep growing while paying a minimum price for Buckner's pass-rushing production.
Most Overpaid: None
The Seattle Seahawks have won eight playoff games during the Pete Carroll era. That includes winning Super Bowl XLVIII and making it to the title game again in 2015. That success always leads to escalating paychecks as a team has to foot the bills to keep its core in place.
But looking down the list, it's difficult to find one contract that really pops out as a mistake. Quarterback Russell Wilson ($12.6 million in 2017) is all of 28 years old and has a career per-attempt passing average of eight yards. Tight end Jimmy Graham ($7.9 million) is expensive in 2017 too, but he's coming off a 923-yard season and showing no ill effects from his torn patellar tendon.
Then there are cornerback Richard Sherman ($11.4 million), safety Earl Thomas ($8.5 million) and fellow safety Kam Chancellor ($6.8 million), all of whom are still top performers at their positions. And the pass-rushing tandem of Cliff Avril ($4.5 million) and Michael Bennett ($6.5 million) is worth every penny too.
Most Underpaid: Tyler Lockett ($695,000)
It was immediately clear Tyler Lockett's grass-torching speed would make him dangerous every time he touched the ball. As a rookie, he set a new Seahawks record for return yards in a game with his 139 yards in Week 17.
He's a multi-purpose threat who scored six times as a receiver during his rookie year and has recorded 1,458 return yards over two seasons. Lockett broke his tibia and fibula late in his second season, but Carroll told John Boyle of Seahawks.com he should be at full speed for training camp.
If he is indeed healthy, Lockett will keep being a weapon who can turn a game around on one play, and he'll do it on a low price tag.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Most Overpaid: Doug Martin ($5.8 million)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht recently told NFL Network's Mike Garafolo that when he looked out onto the practice field during OTAs, the Doug Martin of 2016 was long gone. Instead the Martin of 2015 was running around. That's when Martin wasn't injured or suspended and ran for 1,402 yards.
The Bucs need to hope the right Martin shows up in 2017, because he's set to be the fourth-highest-paid running back after a dud 2016 when Martin averaged only 2.9 yards per carry.
Most Underpaid: Mike Evans ($690,000)
Mike Evans is almost as comically underpaid as the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. A fast-moving skyscraper at 6'5" and 231 pounds, Evans has posted three straight 1,000-plus yard seasons to begin his career. He's also scored 27 times and recorded a career-high 96 receptions in 2016.
He'll get his money dump soon. But for now the Bucs have Evans secured at a reasonable price for the next two years after picking up his fifth-year option.
Most Overpaid: DeMarco Murray ($6.25 million)
DeMarco Murray's 2016 season started with physical thunder, as a pounding one-cut running back was put behind a technically sound Tennessee Titans offensive line. But late in the year, the only sound coming from Murray was a whimper, the kind we hear often from 29-year-old running backs who have had the youthful energy beaten out of them.
Over the final six games of 2016, Murray averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. The Titans need a rested and refreshed Murray now, especially after the offense was given a facelift elsewhere, with Eric Decker and Corey Davis set to lead the wide receiver depth chart.
If Murray doesn't come back strong then he could quickly turn into a heavy salary-cap strain.
Most Underpaid: Marcus Mariota ($615,000)
If he can stay healthy, Marcus Mariota is about to make his contract look laughable fast. In 2016 Mariota scored a combined 28 rushing and passing touchdowns, and he did it while throwing only nine interceptions.
The whole staying healthy bit has been his problem so far. Both of his NFL seasons have ended early due to injury.
Most Overpaid: Jordan Reed ($3.75 million)
Jordan Reed is overpaid only in the sense that he comes with significant injury risk.
He brings rare athletic gifts to the tight end position and is a red-zone jump-ball master with his 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons. But he's also missed 18 games over four years. As his base salaries keeps climbing, Jordan's delicate status will make Redskins executives gnaw off every nail, every week.
Reed's base salary in 2017 only begins to feel a little expensive. Then it jumps up to $8.25 million in 2018.
Most Underpaid: Jamison Crowder ($615,000)
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder used his neck-wrenching speed to blast off for three games with 100-plus receiving yards in 2016, compiling 847 yards overall.
The fourth-round pick in 2015 showed enough potential that he'll now take on a full-time role opposite newly signed Terrelle Pryor, giving the Redskins a quality outside receiver at little cost. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden recently gushed about Crowder while speaking to Mark Bullock of the Washington Post.
"He's an excellent player, dynamic player," said Gruden. "He just continues to prove every day why we like him so much. He's great on option routes, he can run vertical stems. He can run just about anything you ask him to run. He gets himself open because he's got a great feel. He's got quickness in and out of his breaks. He plays a lot longer than his size."