Odell Beckham’s absence at OTAs is now reportedly related to his contract situation. Aaron Donald of the Rams has also stayed away from OTAs. The contract setup today makes it so that the underpaid players are those on their rookie deals who have played like stars, but get paid below many veteran backups. Most of these guys will eventually see their payday, but even top picks from a few years ago can make way less than others at the position. Here are the most underpaid players in the NFL.
#10 Landon Collins, S, NY GIANTS
The 23-year-old Collins was a cornerstone of the Giants defense last year and was selected first team All-Pro. He is also the 60th-highest-paid safety by 2017 cap charge (all cap data via Spotrac). He was the first pick of the second round two years ago, so Collins won’t be subject to the “fifth-year option,” but he won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season and cannot even renegotiate until after the next one.
#9 Jordan Howard, RB, CHICAGO
Howard was a fifth-round rookie who emerged with over 1,600 yards from scrimmage in Chicago. As a result of that draft position, there are over 100 running backs in the league making more money than his $602,000. But here’s the risk for young backs drafted outside the first few rounds (Jay Ajayi is also in this boat): unless you stay healthy and are still the man in a few years, you may never get paid. And even then, teams will look at you about to turn age 26 or 27 and say “why should we pay him now, he’s about to decline?”
#8 ALLEN ROBINSON, WR, JACKSONVILLE
Allen Robinson had an off year last year as the entire Jacksonville offense went in the tank, but he still has a 1,400-yard, 14 touchdown season, and hasn’t yet turned 24. He is currently the 97th-highest paid wide receiver. Since he is entering his fourth year, he could get a re-negotiated deal before becoming a free agent, and though there has been no word that he is sitting out because of it, he does want a new deal with Jacksonville.
#7 Marcus Peters, CB, KANSAS CITY
Peters fell to the 18th overall pick for Kansas City because of some off-field issues, but he has been stellar on it. He has 14 interceptions in two years and two Pro Bowl selections. His 2017 cap charge of $2.6 million puts him at 55th at the cornerback position, and with the Chiefs also able to exercise the fifth-year option, and for a pick outside the Top 10, he is a couple of years away from getting a big deal that gets anywhere near his value.
#6 ZACK MARTIN, OG, DALLAS
Zack Martin has been a Pro Bowler all three seasons in the NFL, first team All-Pro twice, and has been a big part of Dallas having one of the top offensive lines in the league over that span. He is the 33rd-highest-paid guard in the league and should be due for a big contract soon, though Dallas can and will exercise the fifth-year option after this season.
#5 DAK PRESCOTT, QB, DALLAS
Dak Prescott will make $636,000 this year and start for the Dallas Cowboys. That salary puts him as the 68th-highest-paid QB, behind such luminaries as everyone that Andy Benoit thinks is better than Colin Kaepernick. On value, he would be higher on this list, but he’s only put in one season so he falls behind guys who have done it at a higher level for longer.
#4 ODELL BECKHAM, WR, NY GIANTS
Odell Beckham certainly has a reason to want a new contract. He’s been a Pro Bowler every year, has averaged nearly 100 yards a game for his career, and has 35 touchdowns in three seasons. He’s currently the 45th-highest-paid WR, and because he happened to be selected just outside the top 10 (12th overall in 2014) his fifth-year option amount will also be lower. He has leverage now, based on his importance to the offense, and it appears he plans on using it.
#3 AARON DONALD, DT, LOS ANGELES RAMS
Aaron Donald, selected one pick after Beckham, is in the same boat, and this will be the new normal under the current contract format. Guys entering their fourth year, especially guys drafted just outside the top 10 but in the first round who have been superstars, will be holding out for new contracts. The teams have that fifth-year option to wield in negotiations, and all the players have is the threat that you will miss out on one of the best in the league for a few games. Donald has been first team all-pro each of the last two years and is 32nd-highest paid defensive tackle.
#2 DAVID JOHNSON, RB, ARIZONA
David Johnson led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,118) and touchdowns (20) last year. The former third round pick turned 25 in December, and is still a full year away from even being able to renegotiate a contract. He is the 63rd-highest-paid RB entering 2017. Given that he will turn 27 before he becomes a free agent, he would be wise to save up and be ready to hold out next year (if he has another year like this last one) if he wants any leverage for a new deal that gets anywhere near his value. He suffered a MCL sprain in his final game of 2016, and the running back position can be cruel.
#1 DEREK CARR, QB, OAKLAND
Derek Carr is going into his fourth season and has established himself as the best QB from his draft class. He’ll be a free agent after this year (Oakland would most definitely franchise him if necessary) but I would expect the team to change his pay status soon. He’s currently the 46th-highest paid QB in the NFL, right behind Ryan Griffin, Mark Sanchez, and Case Keenum, and just in front of Brandon Weeden.