The Best-Value Contract on Every NFL Roster Entering 2020 Season
The name of today's NFL game is building the roster through the draft in hopes of finding a superstar on a rookie deal.
As such, the majority of the best-value contracts will belong to players still in their first four seasons.
The best values generally fall into two categories:
- Players drastically outperforming their rookie contracts. Yes, drafting well should be rewarded and recognized.
- Established players whose current deals are well below market value.
The primary deciding factor is the individual's value for the 2020 season, though years remaining on a deal can play a role. Potential holdout candidates like the Minnesota Vikings' Dalvin Cook, Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Mixon and Los Angeles Chargers' Joey Bosa aren't included since their current deals are points of contention.
The following players will be steals for their respective teams during the upcoming season and possibly longer.
Arizona Cardinals: S Budda Baker
Budda Baker has already made two Pro Bowls through his first three seasons. Granted, his first selection, along with a first-team All-Pro nod, came courtesy of his special teams performance.
It never hurts to be proficient in two phases of the game.
He's already progressed from a standout special teamer to one of the game's best young defensive backs. In college, Baker excelled as a do-everything safety capable of playing the run because of his physical nature and covering receivers out of the slot. He continues to be the same player at the professional level.
According to Pro Football Focus, Baker ranked first in run-stop percentage last season.
The 36th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft carries a $2.2 million salary-cap hit this season, the final year of his rookie contract.
Atlanta Falcons: WR Calvin Ridley
Calvin Ridley is the first of multiple young wide receivers on this list because the position has a relatively easy transition, at least from a production standpoint, from the collegiate level to a pass-happy league.
The Atlanta Falcons spent the 26th overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft to acquire Ridley, who hasn't disappointed. The polished route-runner serves as an excellent No. 2 option opposite Julio Jones. In two seasons, Ridley has caught 127 passes for 1,687 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The third-year receiver still has two more years left on his rookie deal, not including the fifth-year team option. Until then, Ridley's salary-cap hit won't place among the top 35 at his position.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Lamar Jackson
In just his second season, Lamar Jackson put together a historic performance.
The reigning NFL MVP led the most prolific rushing attack in league history while setting a quarterback record with 1,206 rushing yards. But Jackson is more than running quarterback. He's legitimately one of the league's best passers.
Jackson led the NFL with 36 touchdowns passes, tied for eighth with a 66.1 completion percentage and ranked second in QBR from the pocket, per ESPN's Matt Bowen.
Yet the Ravens can't start dialogue for an extension until the window to do so opens next offseason. So Jackson will have $2.6 million and $3 million salary-cap hits over the next two seasons, respectively, until his fifth-year option kicks in or Baltimore successfully negotiates a new long-term contract.
Buffalo Bills: CB Tre'Davious White
Only two cornerbacks—the Buffalo Bills' Tre'Davious White and New England Patriots' Stephon Gilmore—belong in the discussion for the best at the position.
Gilmore is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year with the highest salary-cap hit ($18.7 million) of any cornerback in the league this season.
For comparison, White, who was also named a 2019 first-team All-Pro, will account for $3.2 million against the Bills' salary cap. In total, 50 cornerbacks hold a higher salary-cap hit for the upcoming campaign.
To say that Buffalo is getting a great value is an understatement since White received the second-highest grade in red-zone coverage and didn't allow a single touchdown last year, per Pro Football Focus.
Carolina Panthers: OT Taylor Moton
Carolina Panthers right tackle Taylor Moton is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract. Maybe he'll finally receive some of the recognition he deserves as a steady performer.
The 2017 second-round pick has been consistently good over the last two seasons despite flip-flopping sides and even being benched for Darryl Williams.
Yet Moton graded as a top-five right tackle during his sophomore campaign, per Pro Football Focus, and started all 32 games over the last two seasons.
The 25-year-old blocker hasn't been selected to the Pro Bowl (at least, not yet), but teams across the league are searching for reliable offensive linemen because of a general shortage at the position. The Panthers should be happy Moton is on the roster with a meager $1.3 million salary-cap hit this fall.
Chicago Bears: LB Roquan Smith
Rookie deals really drive value as it pertains to roster building, and the juxtaposition of Chicago Bears standout Roquan Smith and former teammate Nick Kwiatkoski, who entered free agency this offseason, shows how organizations capitalize on them.
The Bears drafted Smith with the eighth overall pick in 2018. He's turned out to be an excellent three-down linebacker and an ideal defender for today's game.
Chicago chose Kwiatkoski two years earlier in the fourth round. Kwiatkoski has never been a full-time starter. Yet the Las Vegas Raiders signed him to a three-year, $21 million deal with a $7 million salary-cap hit in his first season with the organization.
Smith will enter the third year of his rookie deal with a $5.1 million cap number.
Cincinnati Bengals: Edge Sam Hubbard
Sam Hubbard is about to enter the third year of his rookie deal, yet he's already established himself as the Cincinnati Bengals' second-leading sack artist.
Hubbard set a career high with 8.5 sacks last season and finished only half a sack behind Carlos Dunlap.
More importantly, the 2018 third-round pick is a complete defender who consistently disrupts both opposing ground and passing attacks.
The Bengals aren't likely to invest in Hubbard early with two seasons remaining on his current deal at $982,300 and $1.2 million, respectively. A long-term deal is more likely once Dunlap is off the books after the '21 campaign since the franchise's all-time leader in sacks has a salary-cap hit above $10 million for the next two seasons.
Cleveland Browns: RB Nick Chubb
Nick Chubb is easily one of the NFL's best running backs, but he's not paid like it and probably won't be for some time.
In two seasons, the 2018 second-round draft pick has recorded 2,490 rushing yards, including finishing second last season with 1,494. While the Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey and Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry received paydays this offseason, Chubb has two more seasons with salary-cap hits of less than $2.4 million before he sniffs free agency. The Cleveland Browns' top rusher won't even be the highest-paid back on the roster this fall; Kareem Hunt will be.
Even if Chubb plans to enter free agency in 2022, the Browns can use the franchise tag on their workhorse back to avoid giving him a long-term deal.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Michael Gallup
Amari Cooper became the NFL's highest-paid wide receiver (in total contractual value) this offseason, while his running mate, Michael Gallup, must wait his turn before the Dallas Cowboys can invest in him.
Gallup exploded in his second season with 66 receptions for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback Dak Prescott targeted Gallup only six fewer times than Cooper.
Yet the 2018 third-round pick will go into the 2020 campaign with a salary-cap number that's less than half of what this year's first-round selection, No. 17 pick CeeDee Lamb, is expected. Last year's 17th overall pick—the New York Giants' Dexter Lawrence—held a $2.4 million salary-cap hit, whereas Gallup will cost the Cowboys $972,495 this fall.
With two years left on his rookie deal, Gallup may be waiting a while for a contract extension.
Denver Broncos: RB Phillip Lindsay
Phillip Lindsay should be slightly miffed by the Denver Broncos' offseason direction.
In two seasons, the undrafted free agent posted a pair of 1,000-yard rushing campaigns, contributed 2,480 total yards, scored 17 touchdowns and went to the 2018 Pro Bowl.
Despite all of Lindsay's early accomplishments, the Broncos signed fellow running back Melvin Gordon III to a two-year, $16 million free-agent contract.
Yes, Gordon is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and the two will share backfield duties. But Lindsay basically lost his starting job to a veteran who isn't clearly better yet will make $9 million this season when he's set to earn $750,000 in base salary.
If he's not extended, Lindsay will be a restricted free agent in 2021.
Detroit Lions: WR Kenny Golladay
As Kenny Golladay enters the final year of his rookie contract, he's firmly established as one of the NFL's best deep threats.
Over the last two seasons, Golladay managed 135 catches for 2,253 yards and 16 touchdowns. Last season, the 6'4", 214-pound target led the NFL with 11 scoring receptions. He also finished second with 12 catches of over 30 yards and an average depth of 16.1 yards per target, according to Pro Football Focus.
The 26-year-old has a paltry $2.3 million salary-cap hit for 2020.
That's the third-highest salary-cap number among the Detroit Lions wide receivers behind those of Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola.
Green Bay Packers: NT Kenny Clark
Kenny Clark entered the NFL as a 20-year-old and worked himself into the league's best nose tackle.
What separates Clark from a traditional nose tackle is he can consistently collapse the pocket. The 2016 first-round pick finished second behind two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald last season with 62 interior pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now 24 years old, Clark is a prime contract extension candidate since he's entering the final year of his rookie contract. At $7.7 million this year, Clark might seem fairly compensated, but that number compared to those with similar interior pass-rushing skills aren't close to commensurate.
Donald, DeForest Buckner, Chris Jones, D.J. Reader, Calais Campbell, Fletcher Cox, Grady Jarrett, Javon Hargrave and Sheldon Richardson will be paid somewhere between $12 million and 23.4 million this year.
Houston Texans: QB Deshaun Watson
The Houston Texans are Deshaun Watson's team, and it's never been more clear since the organization traded superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.
In doing so, the Texans placed more onus on their quarterback while simultaneously benefitting from his rookie contract for at least one more season.
Hopkins' salary-cap hit is $12.5 million this fall. Running back David Johnson, whom the Texans received in return, has a cap number of $11.2 million. Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks, whom Houston acquired to help replace Hopkins, both have salary-cap hits of $6.1 million or more.
Watson's number is less than all of those at $4.4 million.
Indianapolis Colts: LB Darius Leonard
Darius Leonard has been one of the game's best linebackers from the moment he took the field after the Indianapolis Colts chose him with the 36th overall pick in the 2018 draft.
As a rookie, Leonard led the NFL with 163 total tackles, registered 12 tackles for loss, defended eight passes, secured seven sacks and forced four fumbles. He earned first-team All-Pro recognition yet somehow didn't make the Pro Bowl.
A year later, Leonard made the Pro Bowl but wasn't an All-Pro after 121 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, seven defended passes, five sacks and two forced fumbles.
The 24-year-old continues to stuff the stat sheet while operating under a third-round rookie contract with the 62nd-highest salary-cap hit among off-ball linebackers for the '20 campaign.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR DJ Chark Jr.
Quarterback Gardner Minshew II could easily be the Jacksonville Jaguars' best contractual bargain if he proves to be the franchise's long-term starter during the upcoming season. But he and the team have yet to reach that point.
Until then, it's safer to look at those who already provided the team with a Pro Bowl-level performance, like wide receiver DJ Chark Jr.
The 2018 second-round pick emerged as the Jaguars' WR1 in his second season. Chark caught 73 passes for a team-leading 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns.
Really, the Chark-Minshew relationship is symbiotic. If one excels, the other will as well. The difference in this case is Chark already showed he outperformed his deal, which has a $1.2 million salary-cap hit in his third season. Minshew must show a little more magic before making the same proclamation.
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes' current contract is the best deal in all of professional sports.
The reigning Super Bowl MVP, the 2018 NFL MVP and the game's best quarterback, he has a paltry $5.32 million salary-cap hit in the fourth year of his rookie contract. He'll be the game's 30th-highest-paid quarterback, and he's even lower in actual cash spent at $2.8 million.
More actual money will go to Chase Daniel and A.J. McCarron if Mahomes doesn't renegotiate his current deal before the start of the '20 campaign.
The Kansas City Chiefs should be doing everything in their power to lock up the '17 10th overall draft pick after 76 touchdowns tosses in only two seasons as a starter. Sooner or later (probably sooner), Mahomes will be the highest-paid player in NFL history.
But he's not at the moment, which makes him the league's top bargain.
Las Vegas Raiders: DE Maxx Crosby
The Las Vegas Raiders' leading sack artist, Maxx Crosby, is coming off his rookie campaign, so the team doesn't have to worry about extending his contract for at least two more years, if not longer.
Crosby finished second among rookies last season with 10 sacks.
To make the situation even more beneficial for the Raiders, general manager Mike Mayock didn't select the standout defensive end until the fourth round. His base salary won't exceed $1 million at any point over the next three seasons.
Plus, the Raiders should expect the 2019 106th overall pick to get better this year and beyond after the organization hired Rod Marinelli to serve as the defensive line coach. Marinelli is a legendary position coach with a history of maximizing his players' outputs.
Los Angeles Chargers: CB Desmond King II
Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Desmond King II is arguably the most intriguing value on this list because of the uncertainty surrounding the team's secondary rotation.
As a performer, King is an outstanding nickel corner and doubles as a second-team All-Pro punt returner.
But the Chargers own arguably the NFL's deepest and most versatile secondary. Chris Harris Jr. signed this offseason to man the slot. Safeties Derwin James and Nasir Adderley can cover receivers depending on the looks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley wants to employ.
With that in mind, King could become expendable for the right price, and numerous suitors could line up to secure the services of a quality cornerback and excellent return man with a $2.2 million salary-cap hit.
Or, the Chargers could keep King and continue to benefit.
Los Angeles Rams: WR Cooper Kupp
The Los Angeles Rams spent most of the offseason trying to shed salary, so the idea of extending wide receiver Cooper Kupp before the start of the 2020 campaign would be counterproductive even though he's certainly deserving of a new deal.
Currently, Kupp holds a $2.37 million salary-cap hit this year despite being one of the game's premier slot receivers. Last season, the 27-year-old target tied the New England Patriots' Julian Edelman with 69 receptions while working out of the slot, per Pro Football Focus.
Edelman, Larry Fitzgerald and Jarvis Landry are elite slot operators. Each of their current deals exceeds $9.6 million in total value this fall.
Obviously, Kupp would like a new contract, but he's already said it's "not a priority at this time," per Stu Jackson of the Rams' official site.
Miami Dolphins: DT Davon Godchaux
The Miami Dolphins are a young team in the middle of a rebuild with decisions to make at multiple positions, specifically those deserving of contract extensions.
Interior defenders don't hold the value they once did unless they're consistent pass-rushers, as well. But the Dolphins already have one of the league's best run defenders in Davon Godchaux and would be wise to eventually extend him, even if it's not until next offseason.
According to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, the Dolphins have to yet to engage in contract negotiations with the 25-year-old even though he made more tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage than any other interior defender last season.
Godchaux doesn't even rank among the top 80 defensive tackles with this year's $2.18 million salary-cap number.
Minnesota Vikings: LB Eric Kendricks
Minnesota Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks signed a five-year, $50 million contract prior to the start of the 2018 campaign. Normally, such a lucrative deal would preclude him from being considered a great value. But the explosion of the linebacker market between then and now places him in a unique position.
The '19 first-team All-Pro's $10 million salary-cap hit for the '20 season ranks 10th among off-ball linebackers. Kendricks won't even be the highest-paid linebacker on the Vikings roster this fall; Anthony Barr will be.
Kendricks led all second-line defenders in overall grade last season, according to Pro Football Focus. As a true three-down linebacker, the '15 second-round pick made 36 stops that resulted in offensive failure, 12 pass breakups and 17 total pressures.
New England Patriots: QB Cam Newton
The New England Patriots' best contract is the last one the team negotiated.
The organization's patience waiting through months of inactivity at the game's most important position only to land former MVP Cam Newton at a fraction of his worth should turn out to be yet another masterstroke by Bill Belichick and Co.
According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, Newton's one-year deal has a $1.05 million base salary with $550,000 guaranteed at signing. At full value, the three-time Pro Bowl selection can make $7.5 million. For context, three projected backups—Taysom Hill, Marcus Mariota and Case Keenum—are scheduled to make more.
If the 31-year-old signal-caller is healthy, the Patriots will remain in the Super Bowl picture even without Tom Brady.
New Orleans Saints: RB Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara wasn't included among those considered potential holdout candidates. While he could certainly demand a new contract—he's earned that right—his situation is slightly different than those considering the same move.
First of all, Kamara will make more money this fall than Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon. At $2.38 million, the Saints are still getting a bargain with the three-time Pro Bowl performer.
Second, Kamara isn't a typical running back. He's a hybrid performer similar to the Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey, who became the NFL's highest-paid running back this offseason. The fourth-year weapon holds more value than a traditional ball-carrier.
Plus, the Saints don't have an abundance of financial wiggle room. Kamara will get paid, but it's more likely to happen after the upcoming season.
New York Giants: WR Darius Slayton
The New York Giants struck gold when general manager Dave Gettleman selected wide receiver Darius Slayton in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
Slayton provided the Giants with something they didn't previously have on the roster: an outside threat. Veterans Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard are more effective working out of the slot, whereas Slayton is a slightly bigger target (6'1", 190 lbs.) with the ability to stretch the field and demand safety help.
As a rookie, Slayton led the Giants with 740 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
Compared to other receivers, those numbers aren't overly impressive. However, the thought of Slayton's continued development as New York's WR1 without a salary-cap number over $1.02 million at any point during the next three seasons is exciting.
New York Jets: S Marcus Maye
Jamal Adams may be the New York Jets safety creating all the headlines, but fellow 2017 draftee Marcus Maye deserves more attention for his level of play and contract status.
Adams already demanded a trade.
While Adams' future is cloudy, Maye's status should become the team's priority. Adams serves as Mr. Everything, and the former 39th overall pick excels working along the back line as an eraser for any mistakes made in front of him.
Overall, Maye's numbers aren't nearly as impressive as those posted by Adams, but the free safety is vitally important in Gregg Williams' defense to make sure big plays don't occur with any regularity. As such, the Jets may be better suited to maximize Adams' trade value and re-sign Maye after a season in which he has a $2.1 million salary-cap hit.
Philadelphia Eagles: TE Dallas Goedert
Dallas Goedert's contractual setup is quite interesting based on how the Philadelphia Eagles could proceed at the tight end position.
Currently, Zach Ertz is the Eagles' primary offensive weapon. But Goedert isn't too far behind the three-time Pro Bowl tight end. The 2018 second-round pick finished second on the team last season with 58 receptions for 607 yards and five touchdown catches.
Interestingly, the end of Goedert's rookie contract coincides with the end of Ertz's five-year, $42.5 million deal. At that point in time, the veteran target will be 31.
The younger option owns a combined salary-cap hit of $3.3 million over the next two seasons even though he and George Kittle are the only two tight ends who graded among the top 10 overall in receiving and blocking over the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus.
Pittsburgh Steelers: S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Multiple different defenders from the Pittsburgh Steelers could earn the designation of best value.
T.J. Watt has emerged as a potential NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate while still on his rookie contract. Cornerback Mike Hilton has been excellent as an undrafted gem. Both deserve some attention, but the impact Minkah Fitzpatrick created upon his arrival from the Miami Dolphins can't be duplicated.
The Steelers defense went from an average unit to a dominant one with Fitzpatrick serving as a playmaker at all three levels.
The fact Fitzpatrick still has three controllable years, including his fifth-year rookie option, makes his contract so appealing. Pittsburgh doesn't have to worry about an extension until after the 2022 campaign. Over the next two seasons, the '18 11th overall pick has salary-cap hits of $2 million and $2.7 million, respectively.
San Francisco 49ers: LB Fred Warner
Tight end George Kittle and defensive end Nick Bosa seem like obvious choices for the best contracts currently on the San Francisco 49ers roster. But Kittle is expected to sign an extension, and Bosa's status as the second overall pick from the '19 draft has already given him a lucrative deal with salary-cap hits of $7.7 million, $9.3 million and $10.7 million over the next three seasons.
Linebacker Fred Warner, who the 49ers selected in the third round of the '18 draft, is different. He's quite affordable over the next two seasons despite being one of the game's best young off-ball linebackers.
Warner's salary-cap hit won't exceed $1.3 million during that span. The linebacker led the 49ers' elite defense with 118 total tackles. He also managed seven tackles for loss, three sacks, nine defended passes and three forced fumbles.
Seattle Seahawks: CB Shaquill Griffin
Often lost among the wonderful story that is the Griffin twins playing together for the Seattle Seahawks is the fact Shaquill Griffin is one of the league's best young cornerbacks.
The 2017 third-round pick has a chance to establish an identity this fall, even after making his first Pro Bowl in 2019.
"I want to work on more man press techniques and be able to move around," Griffin said, per NBC Sports Northwest's Joe Fann. "If one game I have to be in the slot—maybe travel a little bit more [to follow top receivers]."
Financially, Griffin has a $2.3 million salary-cap hit during the final year of his rookie deal. Every other cornerback on this past year's Pro Bowl squad will make more this fall.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Chris Godwin
Chris Godwin deserves to be mentioned whenever a discussion about the NFL's best wide receiver arises.
He excelled from the slot, on early downs, when creating after the catch and with his catch rate, according to Pro Football Focus. Basically, the 24-year-old is one of the game's most well-rounded targets.
As a result, Godwin finished third overall with 1,333 receiving yards during the 2019 campaign. Only the Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones and New Orleans Saints' Michael Thomas sat ahead of him.
Jones and Thomas are two of the three highest-paid wide receivers on an annual basis. At $2.33 million this fall, Godwin's salary-cap hit ranks 61st overall.
Fortunately, he can negotiate with the Buccaneers until the start of the next league year when he's scheduled to become a free agent.
Tennessee Titans: WR A.J. Brown
The Tennessee Titans found their WR1 in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft. A.J. Brown slid to the 51st overall pick due to questions about playing outside the numbers and his ability to separate.
Neither of those supposed issues became problematic during his rookie campaign. Brown led the Titans with 52 receptions for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns.
The beauty of a rookie breaking out so early is the team can't even approach him about an extension until after his third year in the league. Over the next two seasons, the Titans will have a top target whose salary-cap hits combine for $2.8 million.
Tennessee will have an opportunity to reinvest in the position next year if Corey Davis is no longer with the team, and it won't have to worry about Brown's contractual standing.
Washington: WR Terry McLaurin
Take nearly everything previously written about the Titans' A.J. Brown and apply it to the Washington's Terry McLaurin, who was drafted a round later.
Like Brown, McLaurin excelled as a rookie and led his team in receiving. The 2019 76th overall pick managed 58 grabs for 919 yards and seven touchdowns during his first professional campaign.
McLaurin's salary-cap hit won't exceed $1.2 million at any point over the next three seasons.
At 24, McLaurin is already a crucial building block for a franchise that's still figuring out which direction it'll go under new head coach Ron Rivera. Thankfully, the team should be able to rely on its inexpensive top target as Dwayne Haskins continues his development to form an exciting young duo.
Salary-cap figures courtesy of Over The Cap.