Last week, the Raiders gave Derek Carr a five-year, $125 million contract extension that averages $25 million a year and doles out $40 million in guaranteed money at signing. Carr earned his payday, and as the now-official franchise passer in Oakland, he’ll face the challenge of living up to one of the biggest contracts in league history.
But before Carr got his record-setting deal, he was just another in a long list of players around the league outplaying their current contracts. That’s a list that’s made up of two distinct categories: (1) the players still on their wage-scale-regimented rookie contracts, which was Carr’s predicament before Thursday, and (2) the vested veterans on their second, third, fourth, or fifth pro deals, a group that makes up the NFL’s shrinking middle class. Let’s take a look at those wily vets: the talented players around the league who aren’t making top dollar, but probably should be. Here’s every team’s most underpaid non-rookie-contract player.
Baltimore Ravens: FS Eric Weddle
Contract: A four-year, $26 million deal signed in 2016
Average annual value: $6.5 million (tied for 13th among safeties)
2017 salary and bonuses: $4 million (tied for 33rd among safeties)
Total guaranteed at signing: $9 million (18th among safeties)
The Ravens were able to sign this five-time All-Pro safety and ball-hawking playmaker to a midlevel deal last offseason. It’s unclear why Weddle never got a stronger market (maybe it had something to do with his decision to stay on the field at halftime to watch his daughter perform in a dance routine in Week 15 of the 2015 season, which earned him a fine from the Chargers), but no matter; he went out racked up 89 tackles, grabbed four interceptions, broke up 13 passes (tied for first among all safeties), and ended the year the top-graded safety in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus, en route to his fourth Pro Bowl. The only truly bad thing he did in the past year was to trim down his amazing beard.
Cincinnati Bengals: DT Geno Atkins
Contract: A five-year, $53.3 million extension signed in September 2013
Average annual value: $10.7 million (eighth among interior DL)
2017 salary and bonuses: $7.6 million (16th among interior DL)
Total guaranteed at signing: $15 million (13th among interior DL)
Atkins continues to be a disruptive force on the inside for Cincinnati, and the five-year deal he signed in 2013 — at the time the second-most-lucrative contract given to an interior lineman — looks like a steal for the Bengals heading into 2017. The three-time All-Pro pass rusher led all defensive tackles in sacks (9.0) last season, graded out as the fourth-best interior pass rusher, per Pro Football Focus, and finished with 36 pass pressures on the year, per Football Outsiders, 10th among all players and second only to Aaron Donald among interior linemen. He can also bench-press 465 pounds, apparently.
Cleveland Browns: CB Jamar Taylor
Contract: A three-year, $16.5 million deal signed in December 2016
Average annual value: $5.5 million (31st among cornerbacks)
2017 salary and bonuses: $2.53 million (52nd among cornerbacks)
Total guaranteed at signing: $5.5 million (tied for 49th among cornerbacks)
Taylor floundered in his first three seasons in Miami after the Dolphins made the Boise State product their second-round pick in 2013, but he found new life after being traded for pennies to the Browns last offseason. In 15 games for Cleveland, Taylor picked off three balls, racked up 13 passes defensed (18th in the NFL), and grabbed 57 tackles, garnering Most Improved Player honors at the cornerback spot last year from Pro Football Focus while grading out as the 19th-best player at his position. One good season wasn’t enough for Taylor to cash in with a big-money deal, though, so the Browns may have themselves a steal for the next few years.
Pittsburgh Steelers: G Ramon Foster
Contract: A three-year, $9.6 million deal signed in March 2016
Average annual value: $3.2 million (28th among guards)
2017 salary and bonuses: $2.68 million (33rd among guards)
Total guaranteed at signing: $2.75 million (35th among guards)
Foster doesn’t get as much recognition as his highly paid linemates David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey, but the 31-year-old left guard is quietly one of the best in the league at his position. Foster started 14 games in 2016, and was one of only four guards last year to not surrender a sack. He graded out second in the NFL at his position — behind only Ravens All-Pro Marshal Yanda — per Pro Football Focus.
Buffalo Bills: G Richie Incognito
Contract: A three-year, $15.75 million contract signed in March 2016
Average annual value: $5.25 million (21st among guards)
2017 salary and bonuses: $3.78 million (24th among guards)
Total guaranteed at signing: $5.45 million (26th among guards)
Incognito’s 2013 bullying scandal in Miami kept him out of the NFL for a year and a half, but Buffalo gambled on him and he’s rewarded the Bills with two years of excellent play. On a one-year deal in 2015, he finished as Pro Football Focus’s second-ranked guard, then parlayed that performance into his current three-year contract. Last year, he finished sixth on PFF’s guard list and made the cut when they ranked their Top 101 Players in the NFL, allowing just 23 pressures on 613 pass-blocking snaps while clearing the way in the Bills’ league-best run game.
Miami Dolphins: DE Cameron Wake
Contract: A two-year, $16.25 million contract signed in February 2017
Average annual value: $8.1 million (27th among all edge rushers*)
2017 salary and bonuses: $8 million (tied for 25th among all edge rushers*)
Total guaranteed at signing: $10.88 million (41st among all edge rushers*)
Even at 34 years old and coming off a torn Achilles tendon, Wake collected 11.5 sacks in 2016 (tied for sixth in the NFL), forced five fumbles (tied for second), grabbed an interception, and finished 14th among all players with 33.5 pass pressures, per Football Outsiders. While Wake’s age and injury history put a cap on what he can make these days, if his on-field play was the only factor involved, he’d be worth a hell of a lot more than what he’s making in Miami. He’s still so good, it’s not even wild to make a statement like this:
*Excludes off-ball outside linebackers that do not regularly rush the passer.
New York Jets: RB Bilal Powell
Contract: A three-year, $11.25 million contract signed in March 2016
Average annual value: $3.75 million (23rd among running backs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $3.75 million (16th among running backs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $6 million (15th among running backs)
Finding an underpaid veteran on a terrible Jets roster was not easy, particularly with New York’s recent tank-inspired purge. But Powell stands out: The seventh-year back edged out Jets workhorse Matt Forte last year with 1,110 total scrimmage yards (Forte finished with 1,076); 722 yards and three scores coming on the ground (at 5.5 yards per carry) and another 388 yards (on 58 catches) and two touchdowns through the air. Per Football Outsiders charting, the elusive and versatile back broke 49 tackles on 189 touches last season — a 25.9 percent mark that ranked him 10th among all NFL receivers, backs, and tight ends with at least 50 touches on the year. Powell finished eighth in DYAR (total value at his position), third in DVOA (value per play), and fourth in running back success rate last year per Football Outsiders (56 percent).
Behold, one of the few fun plays from the 2016 Jets season, courtesy of Powell:
New England Patriots: QB Tom Brady
Contract: A two-year, $41 million extension signed in March 2016
Average annual value: $20.5 million (14th among quarterbacks)
2017 salary and bonuses: $1 million (55th among quarterbacks)
Total guaranteed at signing: $28 million (14th among quarterbacks)
Brady is easily the most underpaid player in the league. The future Hall of Famer and reigning Super Bowl MVP has made it a habit to continually restructure his contract, giving the Patriots more flexibility in free agency, and even at 39 years old, Brady shows few signs of slowing down. After missing the first four games last season due to suspension, the Patriots’ superstar threw for 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions, finishing with a 67.4 percent completion rate (fifth) at 8.2 yards per attempt (second) for a 112.2 passer rating (second). He finished second in QBR (83.0), second in Football Outsiders DVOA (33.8 percent), and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’s top-ranked quarterback. There’s a good case to be made that Brady should have won his third MVP award last season.
Houston Texans: OLB Whitney Mercilus
Contract: A four-year, $26 million contract signed in May 2015
Average annual value: $6.5 million (39th among all edge rushers)
2017 salary and bonuses: $4.97 million (55th among all edge rushers)
Total guaranteed at signing: $10.7 million (43rd among all edge rushers)
Mercilus’s traditional stats from 2016–53 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and a forced fumble — don’t stand out. But those numbers fail to paint a complete picture of just how disruptive the 26-year-old pass rusher really was for the Texans last year. Per Football Outsiders, Mercilus racked up 29.5 total quarterback pressures, just one fewer than teammate Jadeveon Clowney and 20th among all pass rushers league-wide. That put him above Calais Campbell, Jason Pierre-Paul, Chandler Jones, Fletcher Cox, and Malik Jackson in that category, all of whom are playing on deals in the $60 million–to–$100 million range.
Indianapolis Colts: DB Darius Butler
Contract: A one-year, $3 million deal signed in March 2017
Average annual value: $3 million (tied for 86th among defensive backs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $2.88 million (92nd among defensive backs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $2.5 million (tied for 118th among defensive backs)
Versatility is the defining characteristic of Butler’s career, and the 31-year-old defensive back picked off three passes and forced a fumble in 12 games as he switched from his normal role as a cornerback to the safety position, earning the 12th-best coverage grade from Pro Football Focus last year. Where he fits in the Colts’ secondary this season remains up in the air; first-round draft pick Malik Hooker figures to play in the deep-middle safety spot, T.J. Green should have a role in the secondary in his second year, and third-year pro Clayton Geathers figures to see some action, as well. But Butler’s ability to fill in at multiple spots — whether it’s alongside Hooker deep, playing up in the slot as a nickel cornerback, or on the outside running with receivers — is what makes him so valuable in the Colts’ young secondary.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DT Abry Jones
Contract: A four-year, $15.5 million contract signed in February 2017
Average annual value: $3.88 million (29th among DTs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $4 million (28th among DTs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $6.5 million (30th among DTs)
After a few years of outspending just about everyone in free agency in an attempt to build out a talented core nucleus, there’s just about … uh, zero non-rookie-contract players on the Jaguars that could be considered underpaid. But since we have to pick one, the closest thing is Jones, a 25-year-old defensive lineman who re-signed with the team in February. Jones filled in for starter Roy Miller when Miller went down with an Achilles tear in Week 7 last year, and played well in nine starts, collecting 32 tackles and a pass defensed. At 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds, he’s a stout run defender and has the athleticism to move all around the line, providing valuable depth at both interior spots and on the strongside end.
Tennessee Titans: TE Delanie Walker
Contract: A two-year, $13.38 million contract extension signed in May 2016
Average annual value: $6.69 million (14th among TEs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $4.48 million (23rd among TEs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $6.7 million (22nd among TEs)
Maybe it’s because he’s playing on a run-heavy team, or maybe it’s just because he’s been stuck in the relative obscurity of Tennessee the past few years, but Walker remains one of the most underrated and underpaid players in the NFL. The 32-year-old pass catcher has led the Titans in receptions each of the past three seasons, a stretch in which he’s caught 222 balls (third among all tight ends), for 2,278 yards (fourth), and 17 touchdowns (tied for sixth). The Titans are building a more dangerous pass-catching group with the additions of Eric Decker and Corey Davis, but neither player is going to replace Walker as Marcus Mariota’s security blanket over the middle of the field.
Denver Broncos: CB Chris Harris Jr.
Contract: A five-year, $42.5 million deal signed in December 2014
Average annual value: $8.5 million (tied for 19th among CBs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $8.6 million (17th among CBs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $10.9 million (30th among CBs)
Harris allowed just 34 catches on 72 targets in 2016, surrendering a 63.3 passer rating against on his way to a first-team All-Pro nod. Pro Football Focus’s top-graded cornerback from 2016, and the player that leads all cornerbacks in yards per coverage snap allowed (0.79) over the past five years, remains one of the most underpaid players in football. Harris makes plays like this almost feel routine:
Kansas City Chiefs: LB Derrick Johnson
Contract: A two-year, $10.25 million deal signed in March 2017
Average annual value: $5.13 million (14th among ILBs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $2.25 million (tied for 26th among ILBs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $2 million (tied for 33rd among ILBs)
Johnson’s been one of the league’s best linebackers over the past decade, but with age and injury concerns going into 2017 (he’s coming back from a torn Achilles), the Chiefs asked him to take a pay cut in March. Assuming Johnson’s able to get back to full health (as he did following a torn Achilles in the 2015 season when he registered 116 tackles), the wily veteran’s going to represent a steal for Kansas City’s rugged defense. Johnson’s long been one of the league’s best coverage linebackers, and even at 34 years old in 2016, he graded out as the fifth-best inside linebacker against the pass, per Pro Football Focus.
Oakland Raiders: T Donald Penn
Contract: A two-year, $11.9 million deal signed in March 2016
Average annual value: $5.95 million (22nd among LTs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $7.15 million (16th among LTs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $5.5 million (27th among LTs)
Penn may be 34, but he’s still a complete player in his role as the Raiders’ blindside protector. Anchoring one of the best offensive lines in football, he allowed just one sack on 621 pass blocking snaps in 2016 while grading out as Pro Football Focus’s third-ranked run blocking tackle.
Los Angeles Chargers: CB Casey Hayward
Contract: A three-year, $15.3 million deal signed in March 2016
Average annual value: $5.1 million (33rd among CBs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $4.25 million (37th among CBs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $6.8 million (42nd among CBs)
Hayward was a bit of an afterthought signing in free agency last spring, regarded as a depth addition for the Chargers who would primarily play inside in the slot. But he quickly proved his mettle on the outside, and when Jason Verrett went down with an ACL tear in early October, he took over as the team’s shutdown corner. The 27-year-old playmaker went on to lead the NFL in interceptions (seven), allowing just 51 percent of passes his way to be completed while surrendering a 49.0 passer rating on throws into coverage (third), and finished as the sixth-ranked corner in the league per Pro Football Focus. How’d he do all that? A combination of anticipation, quickness, explosiveness, and ball skills — all of which he showed on this play defending Terrelle Pryor.
Green Bay Packers: TE Martellus Bennett
Contract: A three-year, $21 million contract extension signed in March 2017
Average annual value: $7 million (tied for 12th among TEs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $8.05 million (3rd among TEs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $6.3 million (23rd among TEs)
Bennett’s deal in Green Bay pays out a good amount of money in year one, but the average annual value and total guarantees are middling — a strange place for a top-10 tight end. The 30-year-old pass catcher is coming off a season in New England in which he finished tied for 14th among all tight ends in catches (55), ninth in receiving yards (701), tied for third in touchdowns (seven), ninth in yards per route run (1.96), and third in both DYAR and DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Bennett led all tight ends (minimum 20 targets) with an 84 percent catch rate, finished third in yards after the catch per reception (7.5) per Pro Football Focus, and was tops among all qualified tight ends in broken tackles per touch rate (24.6 percent) per Football Outsiders, breaking 14 tackles on 57 touches. He’s great by nearly every metric — there should be little doubt he’s going to thrive catching passes from Aaron Rodgers.
Detroit Lions: WR Golden Tate
Contract: A five-year, $31 million contract signed in March 2014
Average annual value: $6.2 million (24th among WRs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $6 million (tied for 28th among WRs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $10.5 million (tied for 28th among WRs)
Just four players have caught 90-plus passes in each of the last three seasons: Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, and Tate. Brown is averaging $17 million per year, Thomas $14 million, and Beckham is a season away from surging past both. And look, no one’s saying Tate’s the same type of dominant force as the other three players mentioned above, but he’s certainly outplayed the five-year deal he signed in 2014. The league’s most elusive receiver after the catch finished tied for 10th in the NFL in receptions (91) in 2016 and 15th in yards (1,077), and scored four touchdowns. I call him the Human Gyroscope.
Minnesota Vikings: CB Terence Newman
Contract: A one-year, $3.25 million deal signed in March 2017
Average annual value: $3.25 million (46th among CBs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $3.58 million (43rd among CBs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $1.5 million (76th among CBs)
Newman has just continued to defy Father Time. At 38 years old in 2016, the Vikings’ feisty cornerback surrendered the league’s fewest yards per coverage snap and graded out as the league’s ninth-best cornerback, per Pro Football Focus. His age-39 season in 2017 may bring about a move from the outside to the slot, but after playing cornerback, nickel, and safety at different times for the Vikings, he’ll be up for the task.
Chicago Bears: ILB Jerrell Freeman
Contract: A three-year, $12 million deal signed in March 2016
Average annual value: $4 million (17th among inside linebackers)
2017 salary and bonuses: $3.75 million (16th among inside linebackers)
Total guaranteed at signing: $6 million (21st among inside linebackers)
Freeman was suspended four games in 2016 for violating the league’s PED policy, but when he was on the field he was one of the few bright spots for Chicago, which finished 3–13. The 31-year-old middle linebacker started 12 games and led the Bears defense with 110 tackles, finishing with the second-best defensive-stop-to-missed-tackle ratio while grading out as the top inside linebacker in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Cole Beasley
Contract: A four-year, $13.6 million contract signed in March 2015
Average annual value: $3.4 million (51st among WRs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $3.5 million (46th among WRs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $5 million (tied for 53rd among WRs)
Beasley led the NFL in wide receiver rating (122.8) in 2016, led all slot receivers in catch rate (78.9), finished fifth in Football Outsiders’ DYAR and DVOA, and ranked 13th in Pro Football Focus’s grading. Among players with at least 50 targets, he converted a higher percentage into first downs than all but one player (his teammate, Terrance Williams). He is also 5-foot-8 and can throw down reverse double-pump dunks.
OK, that last thing doesn’t really matter. But while it’s easy to forget about Beasley when he plays alongside stars like Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott, the shifty slot receiver is a key piece to the Cowboys’ offensive puzzle.
New York Giants: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Contract: A five-year, $35 million deal signed in March 2014
Average annual value: $7 million (tied for 23rd among CBs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $7 million (tied for 26th among CBs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $11.98 million (24th among CBs)
Rodgers-Cromartie is the best cornerback we rarely talk about. In 2016, the nine-year veteran tied for second among corners in passes defensed (21), interceptions (six), and defeats (19), finishing the season as Pro Football Focus’s fifth-ranked performer at that spot. He was a portrait of versatility for the Giants’ dominant defense, playing primarily in the slot but filling in at both corner spots, linebacker, and safety.
Philadelphia Eagles: DE Brandon Graham
Contract: A four-year, $26 million contract signed in March 2015
Average annual value: $6.5 million (38th among all edge rushers)
2017 salary and bonuses: $6.5 million (38th among all edge rushers)
Total guaranteed at signing: $13 million (32nd among all edge rushers)
Graham got a deal similar to Mercilus’s in 2015, and like his Texans counterpart, has more than outplayed it. The Eagles pass rusher finished 2016 as Pro Football Focus’s second-ranked edge defender and was second in the NFL among all defensive players in pass pressures (48), per Football Outsiders, behind only the Giants’ Olivier Vernon. Not only was Graham great as a pass rusher, but he dominated against the run as well, finishing with 15 rush defeats, tied for tops among edge players. Graham may have denied that he’s planning to hold out, but if he changes his mind, he’s got a pretty good argument that he deserves more money.
Washington Redskins: TE Vernon Davis
Contract: A three-year, $15 million contract extension signed in March 2017
Average annual value: $5 million (21st among tight ends)
2017 salary and bonuses: $6 million (tied for 9th among tight ends)
Total guaranteed at signing: $7.5 million (tied for 18th among tight ends)
Davis was one of the best insurance policies in the NFL last year, filling in for the oft-injured Jordan Reed (who missed four games and has yet to play a full season in his career) as a dynamic pass-catching tight end in Washington’s offense. He caught 44 passes for 583 yards and two scores, finished the season 13th in DYAR and 11th in DVOA per Football Outsiders, ranked ninth in catch rate (75 percent) and sixth in yards per target (among tight ends who played 50 percent of their team’s snaps), and most important, dropped only two passes on 59 targets. At 33, Davis may not be as fast as he used to be, but he can still get behind a defense, and no tight end forced more missed tackles (13) in 2016.
If Reed goes down with an injury yet again this year, Washington’s offense won’t have to change much.
Atlanta Falcons: RT Ryan Schraeder
Contract: A five-year, $31.5 million deal signed in November 2016
Average annual value: $6.3 million (8th among right tackles)
2017 salary and bonuses: $7 million (5th among right tackles)
Total guaranteed at signing: $7.5 million (15th among right tackles)
Schraeder was Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated right tackle in 2015, allowing just three sacks, two hits, and 20 hurries on the year, and he followed that up with another solid campaign in 2016, finishing sixth at his position group. In November, Atlanta rewarded Schraeder with a long-term deal that looks good in average annual value and pays well in 2017, but with just $7.5 million guaranteed at signing, the deal for the former undrafted free agent out of Valdosta State came in well under market in the most important category.
Carolina Panthers: TE Greg Olsen
Contract: A three-year, $22.5 million contract signed in March 2015
Average annual value: $7.5 million (7th among TEs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $6.75 million (6th among TEs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $12 million (10th among TEs)
Olsen recently told Adam Schefter that “business should reflect productivity,” and if that were true, the Panthers veteran would probably be at or very near the top of the pay scale among the league’s tight ends. Over the past three seasons, no player at his position has seen more targets (376), caught more passes (241), or gained more yards (3,185) than Olsen, and his 16 touchdowns over that span ranks eighth. He’s graded out as a top-three tight end in each of the past three seasons, per Pro Football Focus, and hasn’t missed a game since 2007. Lining up all over the formation last season — Olsen ran a pass route from a league-high 18 different positions on the field and was targeted at 16 of them — Cam Newton’s favorite target dropped just two passes on 122 targets.
Olsen is well known for his spectacular catches in the end zone and speed down the field, and there aren’t many tight ends that can so consistently get a defender turned around in coverage with savvy route running and quick footwork.
New Orleans Saints: RT Zach Strief
Contract: A five-year, $20 million deal signed in March 2014
Average annual value: $4 million (17th among RTs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $5 million (12th among RTs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $6.4 million (18th among RTs)
Strief graded out as the fifth-best right tackle in the NFL per Pro Football Focus in 2016, allowing a career-low 31 total pressures and just 2.5 sacks for the Saints on the third-most pass-blocking snaps of any offensive tackle (676), committing just three accepted penalties on the year. The 12th-year vet has missed just two games in the past four seasons — and continues to be an integral part of keeping Drew Brees upright and throwing the ball downfield.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Brent Grimes
Contract: A two-year, $13.5 million deal signed in March 2016
Average annual value: $6.75 million (tied for 25th among CBs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $8 million (22nd among CBs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $7 million (tied for 39th among CBs)
The 33-year-old former Dolphins and Falcons playmaker finished the 2016 season as Pro Football Focus’s fourth-ranked cornerback after giving up a 62.6 passer rating on targets in coverage, posting a league-high 24 passes defensed, and racking up an eighth-ranked 17 defeats. Grimes picked off four passes for the Bucs last year, including this one for a touchdown in Week 17.
Arizona Cardinals: C A.Q. Shipley
Contract: A two-year, $3.5 million deal signed in March 2017
Average annual value: $1.75 million (tied for 20th among centers)
2017 salary and bonuses: $1.75 million (23rd among centers)
Total guaranteed at signing: $725,000 (29th among centers)
The 31-year-old veteran offensive lineman was a stalwart in the Arizona trenches last year, starting all 16 games while grading out as the 14th-best center, per Pro Football Focus. Shipley gave up just two sacks, eight hits, and 12 hurries on 748 pass-blocking snaps (the fourth-most pass-blocking snaps in the league), and assuming he returns from a core-muscle injury to take back his post in the middle, he should give the Cardinals exactly what they’re looking for: consistency and continuity on the line.
Los Angeles Rams: CB Nickell Robey-Coleman
Contract: A one-year, $855,000 deal signed in April 2017
Average annual value: $855,000 (tied for 100th among CBs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $855,000 (tied for 100th among CBs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $80,000 (tied for 145th among CB)
With Lamarcus Joyner moving to safety in new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’s defense in Los Angeles, new addition Robey-Coleman has a chance to make a big impact as the team’s primary slot cornerback. The former Bill was a mainstay at that spot in Buffalo, where he racked up 160 tackles, five sacks, and three interceptions in 64 appearances over his first four seasons. But the undersized nickelback (who measures in at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds) didn’t see much demand on the open market, and was forced to take a one-year prove-it deal with the Rams. Oh, and Sean McVay and Co. just might’ve signed him after going back through some of their own ugly film from 2016.
San Francisco 49ers: QB Brian Hoyer
Contract: A two-year, $12 million contract signed in March 2017
Average annual value: $6 million (tied for 27th among QBs)
2017 salary and bonuses: $7.28 million (23rd among QBs)
Total guaranteed at signing: $6.95 million (28th among QBs)
There’s slim pickins when it comes to underpaid veteran standouts on this roster. Still, the player with the best opportunity to quickly outplay his contract is Hoyer, who reunites with head coach Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. Hoyer played well in Shanahan’s offense when the two were together in Cleveland in 2014 … for a while, anyway. Over the team’s first five games, Hoyer completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,224 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception on 8.21 yards per attempt and a 99.5 passer rating as the Browns surged to a 3–2 start. That’s when things fell apart. Hoyer’s performance dipped, he finished the season with more picks (13) than touchdowns (12), a 76.5 passer rating, and a 7–6 record as the starter before being benched in favor of Johnny Manziel. Hoyer’s tenures in Houston and Chicago were similarly styled roller coaster rides that featured intriguing highs punctuated by alarming lows. But a new season brings a relatively blank slate, and Shanahan and Hoyer will be hoping some of the magic they found early in 2014 shows up again in San Francisco.
Seattle Seahawks: DE Cliff Avril
Contract: A four-year, $28.5 million contract signed in December 2014
Average annual value: $7.13 million (33rd among all edge rushers)
2017 salary and bonuses: $5 million (53rd among all edge rushers)
Total guaranteed at signing: $9.5 million (48th among all edge rushers)
Avril finished the 2016 season with 11.5 sacks (tied for sixth in the NFL), five forced fumbles (tied for third), 20 defeats (tied for 16th), and 35.5 pass pressures (tied for 11th). Avril possesses one of the quickest first steps in the game and is a master strip-sack artist on the highest level (only Charles Tillman has more forced fumbles than Avril’s 30 since he came into the league). The Seahawks’ explosive pass rusher ranked no. 56 on the NFL’s top-100 players list for 2016 — and heads into 2017 ranked 53rd in cash due … among edge rushers alone. Avril has well outgrown a contract that undervalued him even back in 2014 when he signed it. With his contract year coming up in 2018, he’s not far off from another big payday.