In the NFL each team has twenty two starters and they all have a different value to a team, but certain positions are clearly at the top of the hierarchy. We know quarterbacks, left tackles, wide receivers, edge rushers, and elite interior defensive lineman all get big money; however, there are a couple of positions that are underpaid when looking at how every position is paid and comparing that to the position’s value.
Interior O Line (Especially Center)
Left tackles have gotten the glory and money for a while now, and in today’s league, there are three left tackles earning more than twenty million a year on average and eight earning more than fifteen million a year. Center is every bit as valuable as a blindside tackle due to the fact the center has calls to make, similar to the quarterback, and is why center now and again is called the quarterback of the offensive line. Despite having this importance there is not a single center earning fourteen million a year. That’s with two great centers like Corey Linsley and Frank Ragnow signing new contracts this offseason. Trent Williams, the top paid left tackle, earns $23,010,000 compared to Ragnow, the top paid center at $13,500,000.
Three running backs earn more than the top centers for fuck’s sake as all three are at $15,000,000 or higher. Even guys like McCaffrey, Kamara, and Elliot are not worth the same as a center at all yet people have a greater issue with that being acknowledged than with centers being so criminally underpaid. Centers, like all offensive lineman, impact both the pass and run game making elite players at center and the two guard spots worth paying to keep, and they especially deserve more than running backs.
Left guard Joe Thuney signed a deal this off-season for $16,000,000 a year, but all other left guards are under $12,000,000 a year. Right guard there has been more progress made as Brandon Scherff makes $18,036,000 a year and after him Brandon Brooks and Zack Martin at $14,050,000 and $14,000,000 each. The next closest is Graham Glasgow at $11,000,000. Guards are also highly important because they build the pocket for the quarterback to be in and need to give him room to step into throws and not have guys driven back into his lap.
With passing games getting more creative and explosive, modern defenses need to be sure to build the secondary to be a strong unit similar to how an offensive line needs to be a strong unit. An elite safety can make a huge impact in a way an elite corner can but the pay doesn’t reflect that. Jalen Ramsey is the top paid corner at $20,000,000 a year and Justin Simmons is the highest paid safety at $15,250,000 a year. Should there really be a $4.75 million gap between the two? It’s also worth noting Darius Slay makes $16,683,333 a year while the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, is at $14,000,000.
It would make sense that Mathieu should earn more than Slay but a couple of questions to ask yourself is whether or not Jalen Ramsey is worth $6,000,000 a year more than Mathieu. Should Ramsey be between $4.75 and $5.9 million more than Eddie Jackson, Budda Baker, Kevin Byard and Justin Simmons? Ramsey also makes $8.75 million a year more than John Johnson. There are six corners at $15,000,000 a year or higher but only one safety. That should be closer considering once again an elite safety brings very similar value to an elite corner. Secondaries are about the unit and even great corners need help from safeties to prevent big plays. Pay between the two positions should be closer.
At the beginning of the 2010’s we should’ve seen an elite receiving tight end, especially one who could also block at a high level, have the same or very similar value to elite wide receivers. The tight end responsible for showing that was Rob Gronkowski who in 2011 had 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. He had five seasons with 10+ touchdown grabs, four 1,000 yard seasons and Gronk can block too. Jimmy Graham wasn’t a blocker but had the same lethality Gronk did as a receiver. Graham’s best year was 2013 when he had 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. He had four 10+ touchdown seasons and two 1,000 yard seasons.
Fast forward to today where we see great tight end talents like George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz underpaid compared to receivers. There’s no way DeAndre Hopkins ($27,250,000), even being as amazing as he is, is worth $12,250,000 more than Kittle ($15,000,000) or nearly $13,250,000 more than Kelce ($14,312,500). Julio Jones ($22,000,000), the second highest paid receiver, makes $7,000,000 a year more than Kittle and almost $8,000,000 more than Kelce. There is no reason for there to be a gap like this. Elite tight ends are great to have for attacking the middle of the field and the red zone which are two areas that are crucial to offensive success.
All numbers are from https://overthecap.com and are based on each player’s APY.