In the NFL, unless you’re a high first-round pick, it often takes some time before you’re paid a substantial amount of money. Obviously, making more than $1 million per year is still a huge annual salary, but compared to other players across the league, it’s significantly less.
This is largely due to the NFL’s current CBA, which throttles rookie contracts. Gone are the days of Jamarcus Russell’s six-year, $61 million deal, which is a good thing for teams. It’s also led to a number of players being underpaid despite putting up big numbers on a yearly basis.
We’ve put together a list of the most underpaid player at every position, from quarterback to safety. This doesn’t include rookies such as Jordan Howard or Michael Thomas and takes into account how long players have been in the NFL.
D. Ross Cameron
Quarterback: Derek Carr, Raiders ($1.3 million per year)
Carr is in line for a massive payday from the Raiders, one that will certainly make him one of the highest-paid players in the NFL. For the time being, though, he’s 48th among quarterbacks in annual salary.
The Raiders will have to pay their former second-round pick relatively soon as he’ll hit free agency after the upcoming season. There’s no chance Oakland lets Carr get away or allows this situation to turn into one along the lines of Kirk Cousins’ in Washington, so Carr can expect a new contract likely before the season begins.
Running back: David Johnson, Cardinals ($729,843)
Despite only being in the NFL for two seasons, Johnson is undoubtedly one of the best running backs in the game today. He put together a historically great year in 2016, racking up more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage. His salary doesn’t reflect his production, though, as he’s just 66th among running backs in annual compensation.
That’s obviously because he’s still on his rookie deal, which pays him less than most players due to the fact that he was a third-round pick in 2015. Look for the Cardinals to extend him next offseason before his contract expires following the 2018 season. He could get Adrian Peterson-in-his-prime-type money.
Hopkins had a down year in 2016, but that was largely because Brock Osweiler was the guy attempting to get him the ball. His lack of production shouldn’t worry anyone because when it comes to pure talent, he’s one of the best receivers in all of football. You just wouldn’t know that by looking at his $1.9 million salary.
Texans owner Bob McNair has said recently that the team wants to sign Hopkins long-term, and it’ll probably happen relatively soon, but Houston can’t afford to let him leave the way Alshon Jeffery left Chicago.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Tight end: Tyler Eifert, Bengals ($2.1 million)
When healthy, Eifert can have an impact similar to that of Rob Gronkowski. Unfortunately, he’s had a hard time staying on the field, starting just 15 games the past three seasons. That’ll likely give the Bengals some pause when it comes time to extend his contract, which currently pays him about $2.1 million per year.
That’s just 40th among all tight ends, and though he hasn’t played much the past three years, he’s showed what he can do when healthy. In 13 games two years ago, Eifert caught 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns, making his first Pro Bowl.
DIAMOND IMAGESDiamond Images/Getty Images
Offensive tackle: Joe Staley, 49ers ($7.4 million)
Staley’s play dropped off a bit in 2016, but he’s still one of the better left tackles in the league. While it may seem like he’s not underpaid at $7.4 million per year, consider this: 17 left tackles earn more than he does on an annual basis. And even though he didn’t make the Pro Bowl in 2016, he made it in each of the previous five years.
The 49ers shopped him last season, but for a player of his caliber at his low salary, he’s essentially a steal. He’ll likely return to his past form in 2017 after he missed three games due to injury last season.
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY SportsEd Szczepanski
Center: Matt Paradis, Broncos ($615,000)
Paradis has been in the NFL since 2014, when he was a sixth-round pick, but he’s been a starter for only two seasons. In those two years, though, he’s played at an extremely high level. The starting center for the Broncos’ Super Bowl run a year ago, Paradis is one of the top players at his position.
The Broncos got him under contract for this season after he was an exclusive rights free agent, but he’s still making just $615,000. Denver will be forced to pay him next offseason, and if he continues to play well, he’ll land a substantial raise.
It’s only a matter of time before the Cowboys lock up Martin, who’s still playing on his rookie deal. Arguably the best right guard in the league, Martin will set a new standard for players at his position when he signs a long-term extension. It’ll probably be more than Kevin Zeitler’s deal with the Browns, which pays him $12 million per year.
With Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith already signed for the foreseeable future, Martin is next in line on a great Dallas line to get his due.
Just like Derek Carr, Mack is due to be paid any day now. Ideally, the Raiders would probably prefer to spread out their extensions over the next two offseasons, but there’s little doubt both will be signed before the 2018 season begins. As it stands right now, Mack is just the NFL's 28th-highest-paid defensive end.
That’s obviously not fair compensation for the Defensive Player of the Year, but it’s not the Raiders’ fault. It’s just a matter of him still being on his rookie deal and having to put in his time in the NFL before he’s paid accordingly.
For the past few years, Donald has been the best defensive tackle in the game. He was named a first-team All-Pro the past two seasons and has made the Pro Bowl all three years he’s been in the league. The Rams already have exercised his fifth-year option for 2018, but there’s very little chance he will play on that deal.
Instead, Los Angeles will likely sign him to a long-term contract next offseason to keep him around for years to come. With his production and sheer dominance in the middle of the line, he deserves to be the NFL's highest-paid defensive tackle.
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Linebacker: Alec Ogletree, Rams ($1.8 million)
Ryan Shazier and Telvin Smith are both underpaid linebackers, but Ogletree gets the nod here based on the fact that he’s been in the league for four seasons. He really came into his own in 2016, recording a career-high 136 tackles with two interceptions and a forced fumble.
The Rams picked up his fifth-year option for 2017, so he’s still under contract, but he’s made just $1.8 million per year since coming into the NFL. Expect that number to skyrocket next year when either the Rams or another team in free agency pays him accordingly.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Cornerback: Xavier Rhodes, Vikings ($1.9 million)
You can bet Rhodes watched several cornerbacks get paid this offseason and began salivating. He’s truly one of the best cornerbacks in all of football – a big reason Minnesota’s defense is so strong.
Rhodes’ contract expires after this season, so you can bet the Vikings will be working toward re-signing him before that happens. The Bills and Texans were unable to do so with Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye, respectively, and both left in free agency. The Vikings can’t afford to let that happen to Rhodes, who will command top money on the open market.
Safety: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Packers ($2.1 million)
Clinton-Dix can technically become a free agent after this season, but that’s only if the Packers decline his fifth-year option for 2018. That’s unlikely to happen, considering the flexibility and extra time it gives Green Bay. Knowing the way GM Ted Thompson works, don’t be surprised to see Clinton-Dix locked up before the 2018 season begins.
Landon Collins was also a consideration here as an underpaid safety, but he’s been in the league for only two years, so he still has some time before he’ll land his deserved long-term extension.