There are plenty of players who are making mad cash, and some of them arguably don’t deserve the massive contracts they have landed. However, on the other side of the spectrum are the NFL players who aren’t getting paid nearly enough for the productivity they provide their respective teams.
Those are the players we’ll be focusing on today. Many of them are young and were selected later in their draft years, which is why they’re getting paid a fraction of what their peers are earning. Some are veterans who simply aren’t being valued the way they should be.
We won’t be including any rookies, for obvious reasons. Some veterans you might expect to see, like Aaron Rodgers (his contract is coming, and soon) weren’t included either. With those stipulations defined, these are the most underpaid players on every NFL team.
Note: Average salaries were utilized for this list. All contract information courtesy of Spotrac.
Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson, running back, $729,823 per year
One of the NFL’s premier running backs, Johnson finds himself on this list because he was a third-round pick in 2015 out of Northern Iowa. All he did in his first two seasons is pile up 3,156 yards and 32 touchdowns from scrimmage, not to mention he was a dynamo in the return game as a rookie. Last year Johnson lost pretty much his entire third season due to a wrist injury, but he’s raring to go in Year 4. Due to that injury, however, Johnson is one of the stars who has a lot to prove entering a contract year.
Atlanta Falcons: Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle, $631,963 per year
Since being selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Jarrett has progressively gotten better. He has started 30 games the past two seasons and was one of the best defensive linemen on Atlanta’s roster last season. Pro Football Focus highlighted his play for the 2017 season, ranking him 84th in the league on its Top 101 list while noting his 39 pressures ranked 15th among interior linemen last year.
Baltimore Ravens: Terrell Suggs, outside linebacker, $5.175 million per year
Suggs is a remarkable athlete. He’s been one of the NFL’s best pass rushers for well over a decade, racking up 125.5 sacks in his 15-year career. And what he’s done since his season-ending Achilles injury in 2015 is nothing short of remarkable. The last two years, Suggs tallied 19 sacks, registering eight in 2016 and 11 last year. He’s a tremendous bargain for Baltimore right now and continues to be one of the most dependable edge rushers the league has to offer.
Buffalo Bills: Tre’Davious White, cornerback, $2.52 million per year
The going rate for a top-tier cornerback these days is anywhere between $13-15 million per year. During his rookie campaign as a first-round pick out of LSU, White proved to be one of the NFL’s best up-and-coming stars. He started all 16 games for Buffalo, regularly harassing the best receivers in the game today, registering four interceptions, 18 passes defended, a forced fumble, two recoveries and a touchdown. The sky is the limit for this young man, who got into Rob Gronkowski’s head so much that Gronk ended up getting suspended for going over the line on a dirty hit.
Carolina Panthers: Daryl Williams, right tackle, $709,280 per year
This former fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma has become a cornerstone player for the Panthers the past couple of seasons. He split time between right guard and right tackle in 2016 before becoming the team’s full-time starter at right tackle in 2017. He anchored Carolina’s offensive line in a big way, earning high marks for his work protecting Cam Newton and opening up running lanes. Needless to say, another strong season will earn Williams a huge contract.
Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard, running back, $647,006 per year
Since being picked up by Chicago in the fifth round in 2016, Howard has become one of the best running backs in the NFL. He has started 29 games the past two years, racking up 2,858 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage. There was some scuttlebutt that the Bears were looking to trade Howard this offseason, but that proved to be nothing more than fake news. He’s going to continue to be a huge part of Chicago’s offense as the featured back in Matt Nagy’s attack in 2018, and beyond.
Cincinnati Bengals: Carl Lawson, defensive end, $763,154 per year
The Bengals landed quite the steal last year in the draft when they selected this former Auburn star in the fourth round. As a situational pass rusher, he tallied 8.5 sacks in 2017, staying healthy all year and even earning one start. He’s expected to move into an expanded role as a linebacker this upcoming season, as Marvin Lewis envisions Lawson becoming a Peter Boulware-type player for him in Cincinnati.
Cleveland Browns: Duke Johnson, running back, $776,273 per year
One of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL, Johnson has hauled in 241 receptions in his first three seasons as a pro. That’s a lot more action than most receivers get in this league, and Johnson has the added bonus of being able to run the ball efficiently as well. Despite all this, the Browns haven’t utilized Johnson as much as he’d like, or as much as he really deserves. It seems inevitable that this former Miami star will end up landing on another team following the 2018 season when he becomes a free agent.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott, quarterback, $680,848 per year
It’s pretty rare that a fourth-round pick ends up becoming a starting quarterback as a rookie. But difficult circumstances forced Prescott into that role in 2016, and he wowed the league with an incredible first season that included making Dallas the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Last year was more difficult, and it’s clear that the former Mississippi State star has lots of room to grow. But there’s no doubt that Prescott’s contract makes him one of the most underpaid players at any position in the league.
Denver Broncos: Bradley Roby, cornerback, $3.1 million per year
Roby is playing out the final year of his rookie deal after the Broncos picked up his fifth-year option. This young man’s development is a big reason why Denver was so willing to let Aqib Talib go in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams this offseason. In his first four years, Roby has become quite a dynamic cornerback, tallying six interceptions, 49 passes defended, five forced fumbles, four recoveries and three defensive touchdowns.
Detroit Lions: Golden Tate, wide receiver, $6.2 million per year
Tate isn’t bringing home peanuts. But he’s also not bringing in the kind of cash you’d expect from a player of his caliber, who does as much as he does. One of the NFL’s best receivers after the catch, Tate is a miracle worker with the ball in his hands. All he’s done since joining the Lions four seasons ago is average 93 catches for 1,056 yards and nearly five touchdowns a season. He’s been the most consistent receiver on Detroit’s roster, yet at this time the franchise hasn’t begun seriously discussing an extension with the 29-year-old star.
Green Bay Packers: Kenny Clark, nose tackle, $2.34 million per year
It’s only been two seasons since Clark joined Green Bay as a bright-eyed rookie out of UCLA, but in that short time he’s become one of the best nose tackles in the league. He started 15 games in his second season after easing into a rotational role as a rookie and flourished with 55 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. We expect Clark to continue blossoming in his third season as he and fellow defensive tackle Mike Daniels terrorize opposing offensive lines.
Houston Texans: D.J. Reader, nose tackle, $638,845 per year
One of the unsung heroes on Houston’s stellar defensive front, Reader has become an integral player for the Texans since being selected in the fifth round out of Clemson in 2016. He started seven games as a rookie and became the full-time starting nose guard last season before a sprained knee sent him to IR late in the season. Given the talent around him, we expect Reader to continue dominating as he develops his game and builds more functional strength.
Indianapolis Colts: Jack Mewhort, offensive guard, $1.5 million per year
The Colts brought Mewhort back at a bargain rate in free agency. He was one of the best offensive linemen available on the open market this offseason. But due to knee injuries the past two seasons, he didn’t get the kind of deal a player of his ilk would expect to receive under normal circumstances. Since then, the Colts added two rookie guards in the draft, including Quenton Nelson. Because of that, we recently highlighted Mewhort as one of the players that could be traded before the season begins.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Keelan Cole, wide receiver, $556,333 per year
Cole’s story is pretty remarkable. He was an undrafted free agent out of Kentucky Wesleyan last year and had just $4,000 guaranteed on his contract. Due to injuries to Jacksonville’s receiving corps last season, he got his shot to play and broke out in a big way. Cole finished with 42 catches for 748 yards and three touchdowns and proved to be one of the most explosive receivers in the team’s arsenal (just check out this highlight-reel catch). We expect him to continue ascending in his second year.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill, wide receiver, $646,555 per year
Hill came out of college with a serious red flag, having been dismissed from the Oklahoma State football program back in 2014 for viciously abusing his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend. So, it was hardly surprising that he wasn’t a high draft pick when he came out of Western Alabama in 2016. Since then, however, Hill has stayed out of trouble off the field while torching defenses on it, becoming one of the most electric receivers in the game today. He’s put up 1,776 yards and 13 touchdowns the past two years and features game-breaking speed that cannot be matched (like this).
Los Angeles Chargers: Hunter Henry, tight end, $1.595 million per year
Henry has emerged as one of the best tight ends in football today. Since being selected as a second-round pick out of Arkansas in 2016, he’s caught 81 passes for 1,057 yards and has become one of the best red-zone tight ends in the NFL, catching 12 touchdowns. The Chargers are so high on Henry that they chose not to re-sign future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates this offseason and will be featuring the heck out of him in the coming years.
Los Angeles Rams: Marcus Peters, cornerback, $2.396 million per year
We’ve already touched on how expensive it is to pay top cornerbacks. So it’s pretty amazing that the Rams not only landed Peters in a trade with Kansas City for pennies on the dollar but also get to play him on this relatively cheap contract for now. All this kid has done since entering the league as a rookie three years ago is intercept 19 passes for 480 yards and two touchdowns. Sure, he gets burned every once in a while because he’s so darn aggressive. But more often than not, Peters wins his battles.
Miami Dolphins: Frank Gore, running back, $1.1 million
One of the most underappreciated players of his generation, Gore chose to sign a very cheap contract so he could finish out his career in South Beach. It’s a homecoming for the former Miami star, who is just 76 yards away from passing Curtis Martin as the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history. The “Inconvenient Truth” has been the most consistent running back the NFL has featured in his 13-year career and has well exceeded all expectations since being selected in the third round way back in 2005 NFL Draft.
Minnesota Vikings: Stefon Diggs, wide receiver, $626,928 per year
Since entering the league as an unheralded fifth-round rookie out of Maryland in 2015, Diggs has become one of the most successful players of his draft class. In three years as a pro, he’s started 34 games, hauling in 200 passes for 2,472 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was also the hero of the team’s divisional round game against the New Orleans Saints this past January. Still, Diggs has a lot to prove this season with new quarterback Kirk Cousins coming in. He’ll have a chance to earn some huge cash on a new deal if he continues to improve his game and comes up with a big-time statistical season.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady, quarterback, $20.5 million per year
Brady is the only player on this list making more than $7.44 million per year. But the GOAT absolutely deserves to be making more than he currently is (and reportedly would like to, as well). Even in his age-40 season, Brady went for 4,577 yards (No. 1 in the league) and 32 touchdowns (No. 3). Yet looking around the league, Brady’s $20.5 average salary ranks No. 16, with guys like Joe Flacco, Alex Smith and Derek Carr making millions more per year.
New Orleans Saints: Michael Thomas, wide receiver, $1.279 million per year
The Saints loved Michael Thomas so much after his rookie season that they saw Brandin Cooks as expendable. That should tell you all you need to know about this young man’s value. He has 196 catches for 2,382 yards and 14 touchdowns to his credit in just two seasons as a pro, proving to be an absolute steal as a second-round pick out of Ohio State in 2016. Of course, Thomas has the benefit of playing with Drew Brees, but he’s shown himself to be worthy of the No. 1 receiver label and will be in line for a massive payday sometime in the near future.
New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, $2.6 million per year
If it weren’t for OBJ’s penchant for doing some rather questionable things , some of which were during the playoffs and adversely affected the Giants, he’d already have a huge new contract. As it stands, the Giants have made it clear that Beckham needs to prove he’s capable of living up to a higher standard before they’ll dish out the cash. In terms of on-field production, there’s no argument about his value. Beckham has 313 catches for 4,424 yards and 38 touchdowns in just 47 career games.
New York Jets: Leonard Williams, defensive end, $4.657 million per year
Since he stepped onto the practice field for the first time as a first-round rookie out of USC, Williams has lived up to being the No. 6 overall pick in 2015. He’s started 47 games since then, showing up big time for the Jets both in the run game and as a pass rusher. In three seasons, Williams has 178 tackles, 12 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles. He’ll be inking a long-term extension at some point in the future, but for now Williams is Gang Green’s most underpaid star.
Oakland Raiders: Martavis Bryant, wide receiver, $664,805 per year
The reasons why Bryant is making well under a million per year are known by all who’ve followed the Pittsburgh Steelers in recent years. Bryant has been suspended multiple times for marijuana, and he was also a malcontent last season when Pittsburgh went with rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster over him on the depth chart. That said, when Bryant is focused and on the field, he’s very dangerous. In 36 career games, he’s caught 126 passes for 1,917 yards and 17 touchdowns and is especially effective deep down the field. Now he has a new chance with the Raiders, and he needs to make the most out of it.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Mills, cornerback, $604,214 per year
The Green Goblin has been nothing short of outstanding for Philly since he was brought in as a seventh-round pick out of LSU in 2016. He appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, earning two starts. Mills was a pivotal player in Philadelphia’s secondary last year, starting 15 games while helping the Eagles win Super Bowl LII, intercepting three passes, defending 14 more while racking up 64 tackles and scoring a defensive touchdown.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Alejandro Villanueva, left tackle, $6 million per year
This former undrafted rookie out of Army way back in 2010 has sure come a long way. He served three tours of duty in Afghanistan before working his way into the NFL. Originally he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014 to play defensive end but ended up getting cut before the season began. He landed in Pittsburgh that same year. One season later, Villanueva started 10 games at left tackle, where he’s stuck ever since. One of the most underrated players in the league, Villanueva is also extremely underpaid.
San Francisco 49ers: Joe Staley, offensive tackle, $7.44 million per year
Staley recently landed a contract extension that essentially guarantees he’ll finish out his career with the 49ers. But my goodness is it a team-friendly deal. As it stands, Staley’s $7.44 million-per-year average ranks No. 18 in the league among fellow left tackles. Staley is a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the league’s best at this position, so there’s no doubt he’s not being paid according to what he’s truly worth compared to his peers.
Seattle Seahawks: Frank Clark, defensive end, $933,056 per year
The Seahawks took a gamble selecting Clark in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He came into the league with a glaring red flag due to an incident in which he was accused of domestic violence, but in the end the case was dismissed. Regardless of the optics, nobody can deny that Clark has been a stellar player on the field for Seattle. After a rookie season in which he eased into the pro game, he’s become lethal on the edge, racking up 19 sacks the past two years. Clark will now be a key player for the Seahawks in 2018, and another strong season will earn him a huge payday ahead of the 2019 season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ali Marpet, guard/center, $943,397 per year
Marpet is a tremendously valuable player for the Bucs. He’s started 40 games for Tampa Bay since being selected in the second round out of little-known Hobart, playing both right guard and center. Now he’s on the move once again and will be the team’s starting left guard for the 2018 season. Based on the way he’s taken on every challenge he’s faced thus far, Marpet will thrive as a key player in a key position for Tampa Bay this year.
Tennessee Titans: Kevin Byard, safety, $908,572 per year
Despite the ignorance of Deion Sanders, and despite a lack of national fanfare, Byard is a player his NFL peers are well aware of. This young safety is a former third-round pick out of Middle Tennessee State, and since midway through the 2016 season he’s become a dominant force within Tennessee’s defense. This past year he led the entire NFL with eight interceptions, and he also broke up 16 more passes. If he keeps up this pace of play, Byard will end up going from being underpaid to one of the richest safeties in the league.
Washington Redskins: Preston Smith, outside linebacker, $1.444 million per year
Like many other young players on this list, Smith has a chance to earn a big-time payday with another stellar campaign in 2018. Since being selected by Washington in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, he’s piled up 20.5 sacks, three interceptions, four forced fumbles and two recoveries. He’s an impact player who excels off the edge, and at under $1.5 million per year he’s a huge bargain for Washington right now.