The NFL free agency period is quickly approaching and teams are already working furiously to get their salary caps in order. This means many players with exorbitant contracts could be facing contract restructures, trades or unemployment.
On the other hand, many NFL teams are blessed with some extremely talented players who barely put a dent into the salary cap due to their affordable contracts.
Either due to the fact that they were drafted in the mid-to-late rounds or signed off the street, the following offensive players fall into the latter category.
David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals ($729,843)
The Cardinals definitely did a good job adding this former small-school player in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft.
While other pricey NFL running backs didn’t exactly put their money where their mouths were last year, Johnson made a tremendous contribution in his rookie year.
Playing in just 37.5 percent of the team’s offensive snaps last season, Johnson recorded a total of 1,038 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also complied 599 yards and a touchdown on special teams.
Just imagine Johnson’s numbers had he started all season. Due to his successful 2015 campaign, Johnson easily ousted an injury-riddled Andre Ellington from his starting job. Chris Johnson is likely to take a backseat in lieu of the youngster this upcoming season as well.
Derek Carr, quarterback, Oakland Raiders ($1,342,950)
Because Carr was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, his rookie salary currently makes him the best bargain at this position in the NFL.
Carr has done nothing but improve from a statistical standpoint in his first two seasons. This improvement has also come in the form of more wins from the Raiders, who tallied seven victories this past season.
Carr ranked 13th in the NFL with 3,987 passing yards and was tied for fourth with 32 touchdowns last season. He also improved significantly in terms of his completion percentage.
With the Raiders finally turning heads (in a good way) while having a mature young leader in Carr, they can look to spend their excess of cash to improve other positions.
Thomas Rawls, running back, Seattle Seahawks ($530,000)
Perhaps the sudden demise of Marshawn Lynch was a blessing in disguise for Seattle.
When Lynch struggled with effectiveness and a lingering abdomen injury last season, the Seahawks turned to this recently signed un-drafted free agent from Central Michigan.
Fresh to the field, this rookie successfully helped Seattle overcome Lynch’s absence. In 13 games (seven starts), Rawls tallied 830 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns at the stout pace of 5.6 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, Rawls sustained a season-ending broken ankle in Week 14. Though, it is reported that he should be good to go by training camp.
John Brown, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals ($699,725)
Let’s just say that the Cardinals had some smashing success with their third-round draft picks last season.
Drafted in 2014, John Brown’s value to the Cardinals cannot be overstated. He recorded 65 receptions for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015. Together, Brown teamed up with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Co. to record 4,775 total receiving yards — the fifth-highest total for a receiver group in the NFL.
Brown’s numbers are quite noteworthy considering that he played in only 36.2 percent of the Cardinals’ snaps in 2015. He also improved from his rookie stats by hauling in 65 of his 101 targets compared to his 48 catches on 102 targets in 2014.
Devonta Freeman, running back, Atlanta Falcons ($676,106)
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) October 4, 2015
Freeman, a fourth-round pick in 2014, saw very minimal action as a rookie in 2014.
This all changed when Freeman found himself starting for the Falcons early last season, posting some mind-blowing numbers in the process. During a six-week span early in the season, Freeman recorded 603 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
After settling back to reality just a bit, Freeman finished 2015 with 1,634 total yards and 14 touchdowns. He also put up an average of 4.0 yards per carry.
Freeman is surely poised for success in 2016 with second-year running back Tevin Coleman taking on a change of pace role. Freeman’s franchise-friendly paycheck also makes him one of the Falcons’ best value players heading into the upcoming season.
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback, Buffalo Bills ($1,116,667)
After a enduring a drawn-out starting quarterback battle spearheaded by Rex Ryan, Taylor ultimately beat out his competition in Buffalo.
And much to everyone’s surprise after never having started in his career, Taylor was quite impressive in his debut under center. In 14 starts, Taylor completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 3,035 passing yards, 20 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
Demonstrating flashes of mobility, Taylor also racked up 568 rushing yards and added four touchdowns on the ground.
Allen Robinson, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars ($877,718)
Robinson became a household name out of nowhere this past season, recording 1,400 receiving yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns.
Forget inflated contracts given to under-performing players, because the Jaguars have something quite amazing in Robinson. Rarely do we see a player of his caliber earning pennies on the dollar at the wide receiver position.
Though, the team better enjoy this while it lasts. Once free agency creeps up on Robinson, he will demand to be one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL.
In the meantime, Robinson, 22, has a very promising future. With how much Blake Bortles slings the rock in the attempt to help the Jags win games, Robinson will be the beneficiary of a rich amount of targets moving forward.
Jeremy Langford, running back, Chicago Bears ($705,906)
The Bears received an early sampling of what Langford was about while he filled in for an injured Matt Forte during the midway point of his rookie season.
In his two starts in Weeks 9 and 10, Langford did not disappoint, tallying 145 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns fresh out of the gate. And due to his capabilities as a dual-threat back, Langford also totaled 126 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air.
Overall this past season, Langford tallied 816 total yards and seven touchdowns in a supporting role in the backfield.
With the Bears moving on from Forte, the team is in more-than capable hands with Langford, who occupies a mere .42 percent of salary cap space.
Jordan Reed, tight end, Washington Redskins ($690,000)
Jordan Reed ranks first in the NFL in first down receptions among tight ends (52).
— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) December 29, 2015
After completing a couple of drab seasons while dealing with injuries, Reed finally broke out in 2015 and wound up being Kirk Cousins’ favorite target.
As the fifth-most targeted tight end in the league last year, Reed caught 76 percent of the passes thrown in his direction for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games.
With Cousins back in the fold after signing his franchise tag, the quarterback’s chemistry should continue to build with Reed. This makes Reed not only a value player for Washington, but one of the NFL’s best bargains at his position.
Blaine Gabbert, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers ($2,000,000)
When the 49ers’ ship was sinking with Colin Kaepernick aboard, the team took a chance on an inexpensive risk when they gave Gabbert an opportunity to start.
Much to the surprise of most skeptics, Gabbert actually did a acceptable job in the lead role. The 49ers still finished 2015 at the bottom of the NFC West, though Gabbert posted his career-best numbers while completing 63.1 percent of his passes. This is compared to Kaepernick’s 59 percent pass-completion rate. Gabbert also tossed 10 touchdowns over eight games. In comparison, Kap put up six touchdowns in eight games.
If Kaepernick and his enormous contract remain with the 49ers, he and Gabbert will reportedly compete for the starting job this year. Either way things pan out for Gabbert, his ultra-affordable quarterback salary makes him a bargain to keep around.
* All contract information provided by Spotrac