As much as NFL players get paid, it’s hard to believe any one player could be considered a ‘bargain’. That being said, there is a definite standard set in the NFL of what is a lot of money and what is not a lot of money, and there are plenty of great players right now in the league who are not getting paid a “lot” of money.
For the purposes of this research project, it’s important to note a couple of things.
Cash vs. Cap
Salaries in the NFL are broken down by “cash” and “cap”. The cap number refers to how much a player’s figure counts against the salary cap of his team, while cash is the number of actual dollars the player is scheduled to make in 2013. Total cash and cap numbers as well as practice squad players count against a team’s salary cap, as well as “dead money” which every team figures in.
That being said, let’s take a look at the top “bargains” right now in the NFL for all 32 teams in alphabetical order.
The Bargain: Daryl Washington, Linebacker
The Price: Cap hit — $2,858,944 Cash — $1,940,194
Daryl Washington has established himself as one of the best 3-4 inside linebackers in the game today, playing on a vastly underrated defense. Obviously Arizona isn’t winning much these days, but you can’t really blame Washington for that (aside from his recent suspension). Washington has racked up 319 tackles and 15 sacks in his first three NFL seasons along with four interceptions and three forced fumbles, earning 2nd-Team All-Pro honors in 2012 and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Washington’s cap hit compared to other Cardinals’ players is relatively average, but his cash number is lower than the likes of Jerraud Powers, Lyle Sendlein, and…Drew Stanton? Huge bargain.
The Bargain: Julio Jones, Wide Receiver
The Price: Cap hit — $4,418,825 Cash — $1,851,325
Well it’s safe to say Julio Jones has taken the #1 wide receiver spot in Atlanta right out of Roddy White’s hands, and after a Pro Bowl appearance in 2012, it’s clear that the 24 year-old is a top five receiver in the league at this point.
Jones is making less money in 2013 than the following NFL receivers: Jacoby Jones, Steve Johnson, Miles Austin, Santonio Holmes, Greg Jennings, Sidney Rice–among others.
The Bargain: Marlon Brown, Wide Receiver
The Price: Cap hit — $406,666 Cash — $410,000
Through two games of the 2013 season, Brown (thanks to some crazy circumstances) has emerged as the #2 receiver for the Ravens, catching eight passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns (2 TDs leads the team). The 6’5″ undrafted player out of Georgia may very well have established himself as the #2 wideout for the Ravens permanently, and is a great bargain for the 2013 season.
The Bargain: Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback
The Price: Cap hit — $2,751,998 Cash — $944,880
Stephon Gilmore wasted little time establishing himself as one of the best up-and-coming cornerbacks in the NFL, racking up 61 tackles, 16 passes broken up, three forced fumbles, and an interception in his first year in the league.
This guy has a really bright future, and he’s got the 23rd highest cap hit of anyone on the Bills this season. Not bad for being probably a top 3-5 player on the team.
The Bargain: Luke Kuechly, Linebacker
The Price: Cap — $2,864,373 Cash — $967,355
The defensive rookie of the year in 2012 was as dominant as you could probably be for a rookie, racking up 164 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and eight passes broken up, looking like one of the best young defensive players in the league.
Kuechly is getting paid less money this season than ELEVEN other Panthers defensive players.
The Bargain: Martellus Bennett, Tight End
The Price: Cap hit — $1,940,000 Cash — $5,315,000
Martellus Bennett got a nice contract from the Bears, but as for his cap hit, this guy is a pretty nice bargain for a team that doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of bargains. The 6’6″ 265 pound target already has 10 catches and three touchdowns this season, including a game-winning TD grab against the Minnesota Vikings in week two.
Bennett certainly isn’t hurting financially, but because of the way his contract was constructed, neither are the Bears, at least in 2013.
The Bargain: Andy Dalton, Quarterback
The Price: Cap hit — $1,422,054 Cash — $849,018
Andy Dalton isn’t an elite NFL quarterback, but he has helped the Bengals get to the playoffs in each of his first two years in the league, a stat that Joe Flacco would be proud of.
Dalton isn’t a dominant passer by any means, but he’s a solid starter in the NFL who doesn’t make many mistakes, and at that cap number you have to tip your cap to the Bengals for making the move on Dalton when they did. He’s a nice bargain at the most critical position in the NFL, though you have to wonder how long the Bengals will “get by” with him as their main guy.
The Bargain: Jordan Cameron, Tight End
The Price: Cap hit — $679,950 Cash — $560,600
Jordan Cameron was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and he’s finally starting to hit his groove as an NFL player. He’s been targeted in the passing game 20 times, racking up 14 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown in the first two games of the season, and he looks well on his way to emerging as one of the league’s best young tight ends.
The Browns traded their best offensive player in Trent Richardson, so perhaps Cameron fills that label now that Richardson is gone. Getting your best player offensively for under $700K is a pretty solid bargain.
The Bargain: Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver
The Price: Cap hit — $2,926,000 Cash — $1,807,500
Dez Bryant for under $3 million? Sign me up for that.
Bryant isn’t off to a great start in 2013, but has 13 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown which are okay numbers. He’ll pick it up, but the guy is a dynamic playmaker at the receiver position. He has a little diva in him, but Bryant is certainly a guy that most NFL GMs are kicking themselves for passing on in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Bryant has emerged since he was drafted in 2010 by the Cowboys as one of the top five or seven best receivers in the league.
The Bargain: Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver
The Price: Cap hit — $2,598,350 Cash — $842,100
Demaryius Thomas is a dynamic playmaker at the WR position and a Pro Bowl caliber player. With Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, his level of play has been seriously elevated and he has the look of a top receiver in this league.
In his first year with Peyton Manning, Thomas had 94 catches for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns. It’s safe to say he’s one of the best baragains in the league, though it’s tough picking one on the Broncos’ roster. They have so many former undrafted players and late-round picks making an impact, and Von Miller is also still on a rookie contract.
Thomas is a high character player who looks like he’ll be a great one in the NFL for a long time.
The Bargain: Reggie Bush, Running Back
The Price: Cap hit — $2,003,325 Cash — $5,003,325
Reggie Bush was a big-name free agent this offseason but signed a very modest contract to be the featured back for the Detroit Lions. At the price he signed, which was four-years and $16 million, I was surprised more teams weren’t in on this guy.
The Lions are a good fit for Bush, an offense that likes to push the tempo a bit and can utilize his skills as a receiver out of the backfield, and his week one performance alone made the signing worth it for Detroit. This guy has a bright future with the Lions, and he’s only taking up a hair over $2 million in 2013.
Green Bay Packers
The Bargain: Randall Cobb, Wide Receiver/Return Specialist
The Price: Cap hit — $880,199 Cash — $671,666
You think Randall Cobb is going to get a new contract soon?
This is one of the best slot wide receiver/return specialist combination players in the NFL, and one of the most dynamic athletes at his position in the NFL. Cobb has racked up 121 catches and 1,565 yards along with 11 touchdowns as a receiver in his first two NFL seasons, as well as 2,518 return yards with another three scores in that category.
Cobb is arguably the biggest bargain of any player in the NFL.
The Bargain: J.J. Watt, Defensive End
The Price: Cap hit — $3,070,897 Cash — $1,402,715
This is what a defensive player of the year costs, nowadays. No kidding.
All of J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith, and Von Miller are making roughly this figure, give or take a million or two. Watt is an incredible value, taking up less of a cash number in 2013 than punter Shane Lechler and cornerback Brice McCain.
Count that an unbelievable bargain for the Houston Texans.
The Bargain: Andrew Luck, Quarterback
The Price: Cap hit — $5,030,145 Cash — $1,400,509
A top 10 quarterback for just over $5 million? Not a bad deal for the Colts, who are getting bargains all over the place in addition to some of their bad contracts.
Andrew Luck led the team to the playoffs in his rookie season, and is well on his way to being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Luck is 21st among quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of his 2013 cash figure, behind the likes of Matt Flynn and Mark Sanchez.
The Bargain: Cecil Shorts, Wide Receiver
The Price: Cap hit — $734,192 Cash — $623,347
Cecil Shorts isn’t a household name in the NFL but the former fourth round pick out of Mount Union has turned into a draft gem and a great bargain for the Jaguars.
Jacksonville doesn’t have many bad cap figures on their roster, but shorts is making less money than fellow wide receivers Justin Blackmon and Ace Sanders this season. He had 979 yards and seven touchdowns just one year ago for Jacksonville, and whenever they get a quarterback down there, he could really bust out.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Bargain: Jamaal Charles, Running Back
The Price: Cap hit — $4,333,333 Cash — $3,000,000
Jamaal Charles–when healthy–is one of the best running backs in the NFL. He missed the majority of the 2011 season with a knee injury, but aside from that, he’s rushed for over 1,100 yards in three straight seasons and is well on his way to doing so again in 2013.
Charles is making some decent money in bonuses, but in 2010, he signed a very team-friendly six-year, $27.97 million contract. He has less of a cash hit this year than Chase Daniel, Mike Devito, Anthony Fasano, and Dunta Robinson.
Not a bad deal for KC.
The Bargain: Cameron Wake, Quarterback Eater
The Price: Cap hit — $5,015,000 Cash — $3,615,000
This is a really modest price for an elite pass rusher. Cameron Wake has been one of the best at getting to the quarterback in the NFL since he came into the league after some success in the CFL, racking up 45.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles since he came into the league in 2009, including 2.5 so far this season.
Cameron Wake’s cash number in 2013 is less than WR Brandon Gibson, CB Dimitri Patterson, and eight other players on the Miami defensive unit.
The Bargain: Harrison Smith, Safety
The Price: Cap hit — $1,627,647 Cash — $719,729
Harrison Smith had about as good a rookie season as you could have ever asked for out of a safety who was expected to be a second or third round pick (Vikings took him in the 1st).
Smith racked up 104 total tackles, three interceptions–two of which went for TDs–11 passes broken up, a sack, a forced fumble, and a partridge in a pear tree. Smith is also among the lowest paid Vikings players this season, and is a huge bargain for this team.
He’s making less this season than cornerback A.J. Jefferson. Who?
New England Patriots
The Bargain: Rob Gronkowski, Tight End
The Price: Cap hit — $2,755,600 Cash — $665,600
Gronkowski’s cash number is astounding to me. Gronk won’t be a bargain for much longer with the language of his contract changing after 2013, but for this season, he’s a huge bargain.
Up to this point in his career, Gronk has proven to be one of the most dominant players in the NFL, catching 38 touchdown passes in three seasons on his rookie salary after being a second round pick in 2010 out of Arizona.
New Orleans Saints
The Bargain: Jimmy Graham, Tight End
The Price: Cap hit — $1,494,885 Cash — $1,328,600
Jimmy Graham is one of the best bargains in the entire NFL. He is a free agent after this season, which has to worry the Saints a bit, but the 6’7″ beast has been nothing but a machine for the Saints since 2011, racking up 25 touchdowns in his career prior to the 2013 season.
Graham is such a mismatch in the passing game and has established himself as the top target in one of the most potent passing attacks in the NFL. He is currently paid less than Garrett Hartley.
New York Giants
The Bargain: Jason Pierre-Paul, Defensive End
The Price: Cap hit — $2,825,000 Cash — $1,175,000
Pierre-Paul took a step back in 2012 compared to the dominance he showed in 2011, but the guy has been a key piece to a Super Bowl run and has the makings of a dominant pass rusher in the league for years to come.
Obviously there are some things to work on with JPP, but getting him at this price is an incredible value for the Giants. He has racked up 27.5 sacks and five forced fumbles since being drafted in 2010, and is getting paid less this year than Steve Weatherford (punter) and rookie defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
New York Jets
The Bargain: Muhammad Wilkerson, Defensive Lineman
The Price: Cap hit — $1,880,600 Cash — $1,005,600
Well, the Jets are getting a huge bargain for Muhammad Wilkerson, who has developed into one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league today. He is making less money this year than backup tight end Jeff Cumberland, as well as third string running back Mike Goodson.
Wikerson is just 23 years old, and has a great future ahead of him if he can stay healthy.
The Bargain: LaMarr Houston, Defensive End
The Price: Cap hit — $1,078,750 Cash — $660,000
LaMarr Houston is one of the most underrated players in the NFL today because he plays on the Raiders, but I can tell you that this guy is a load to block up front and is quite possiblythe Raiders’ best player defensively.
The former second round pick out of Texas has great size and energy, and finds ways to get pressure on the quarterback. He is not even in the top half of the Oakland Raiders’ roster, which doesn’t have a cap hit of over $5 million outside of running back Darren McFadden.
The Bargain: Fletcher Cox, Defensive Lineman
The Price: Cap hit — $2,331,570 Cash — $859,534
Fletcher Cox is a future Pro Bowl regular who already has two sacks through three games in 2013 as a defensive end in the Eagles’ 3-4 defensive front. He is quick, high energy, and has great size for the position and is an absolute perfect fit for the Eagles’ defensive scheme. Not to mention, the 2012 first rounder has a lower cap number than Jason Avant, Patrick Chung, and Bradley Fletcher.
This is a great bargain for the Eagles to get an anchor for their D-line at such a low price.
The Bargain: David DeCastro, Guard
The Price: Cap hit — $1,781,661 Cash — $750,992
DeCastro was a steal for Pittsburgh in the draft, and after an up-and-down rookie season, I have no doubt in my mind that he is on his way to being one of the best guards in the league.
The Steelers got him at a great spot in the draft, thus lowering his value. Any time you can get a guy like this for your offensive line at such a low price, you’re doing something right. The Steelers were opportunistic here and I think they have a future great on their hands.
St. Louis Rams
The Bargain: Robert Quinn, Defensive End
The Price: Cap hit — $2,577,319 Cash — $1,236,673
Robert Quinn is the third-highest paid defensive end on the Rams’ roster, and the fourth highest paid defensive lineman overall. He has been phenomenal since last season when he racked up 10.5 sacks, and looks well on his way to demolishing that total in 2013.
So far this season (2 games) Quinn has four sacks and two forced fumble, already a career high in that category. He is emerging as one of the top edge rushers in the NFL along with Chris Long for the Rams’ defensive line.
San Diego Chargers
The Bargain: Corey Liuget, Defensive End
The Price: Cap hit — $2,273,530 Cash — $1,136,576
Liuget has eight sacks since coming into the league as a first round pick in 2011, and he’s a big piece of the Chargers’ defensive front.
He’s a freakish athlete for his size and has the look of a future Pro Bowler along the defensive front. The former first round pick is in the middle of the pack as far as cap hit and cash number for the Chargers this season.
San Francisco 49ers
The Bargain: Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback
The Price: Cap hit — $1,397,535 Cash — $840,844
Colin Kaepernick has a lower cap number than some shocking names, including Jonathan Baldwin, C.J. Spillman, Ray Ventrone, Corey Lemonier, Tramaine Brock, and Dan Skuta. How about throwing punter Andy Lee into the mix there?
It won’t be long before Kaepernick has a new contract, but for the time being, the value the 49ers are getting from him is unreal. He led the team to a Super Bowl appearance last season with a scintillating second-half performance last season, and a dominant playoff run.
Kaepernick is one of the best up-and-coming QBs in the NFL, and his cap number is an absolute steal, no matter which way you swing it. The highest cap hit on the 49ers is Vernon Davis, making a reasonable $8.74 million. Their financial responsibility is astounding.
The Bargain: Russell Wilson, Quarterback
The Price: Cap — $686,685 Cash — $531,817
When you go through the Seattle roster, you’ll find these players higher on the payroll than Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson:
OL Lemuel Jeanpierre
DB Jeron Johnson
LB Mike Morgan
OL Mike Person
CB Byron Maxwell
LB Malcolm Smith
This was a tough call because right above Wilson on this list is CB Richard Sherman, who is making $560,075 this season compared to Wilson’s $532K. This is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL right now, and he’s getting paid less than 31 other starting QBs in the NFL this season. That’s a remarkable stat, and so Wilson gets the nod here over Sherman, but you could really go either way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bargain: Doug Martin, Running Back
The Price: Cap — $1,548,220 Cash — $704,124
Doug Martin exploded onto the scene as a rookie rushing for 1,454 yards and catching another 49 passes. His production was absolutely unreal and had it not been for the stellar class of rookie quarterbacks, he would have been the rookie of the year. He is getting paid less than fellow running backs Peyton Hillis and Brian Leonard, as well as fullback Erik Lorig.
His price tag is enviable for 31 other NFL general managers considering the way he’s produced so early on for the Bucs.
The Bargain: Zach Brown, Linebacker
The Price: Cap — $880,911 Cash — $569,402
Brown was one of the most underrated rookies in the NFL last season, racking up 93 tackles, 5.5 sacks, three interceptions, a forced fumble, and two defensive touchdowns. His cash value this season for the Titans is the 13th lowest on the Titans’ roster, making him one of the most productive bargains in the entire NFL.
If you quadrupled his cap number, he’d still be getting paid less than backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Bargain: Alfred Morris, Running Back
The Price: Cap — $516,200 Cash — $485,425
The last player on this list is also the lowest paid player on this list.
Alfred Morris was a sixth round pick for the Redskins last season, and all he did was put up 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns, trailing only Adrian Peterson for rushing yardage.
He is making the same amount of money this season as Pat White. Talk about getting bang for your buck.
**Cash and cap numbers courtesy of USA Today