Somewhere in the NFL there’s a guy who got paid like 73 bucks per yard for eight six-yard carries. Unfortunately, the probability of that player running the ball 250 times for 1,500 yards—and delivering a ludicrous value-per-yard amount—is slim. Thus, we’re limiting our search for the best players at each position in terms of performance per dollar to the top 15 performers from 2013 in the most significant statistical categories.
So, for each position, we took a look at the best players in significant statistical categories (for example, wide receiver: catches, yards gained) in 2013 and then had a look at their contracts. And to ensure this isn’t a highly perishable exercise, we checked the remainder of their contract to see the implications for the 2014 season.
Which brings us to the elephant in the locker room: rookie contracts.
In the course of the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl run and victory, much was made of quarterback Russell Wilson’s rookie contract and the value the he delivers at a discounted price. And since Wilson’s contract can’t be renegotiated until after his third season due to the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Seahawks are locked in to paying their Super Bowl-winning QB what they expected him to be worth.
Bully for the Seahawks. Not so much for the guy running their offense. Of course, none of this takes into account the “rookie salary pools,” and that money isn’t included here.
The majority of the players on this list are in a similar situation to Mr. Wilson: They’ve performed much better than expected and are still within the rookie contract period, and thus are due to receive a relative pittance for league-leading performance.
With regards to lineman, the stats are a little tougher, as there aren’t many reliable lineman-specific stats. Thus, we’ve gone with the cheapest Pro Bowl linemen, as it were.
Continue reading to see which teams are getting some serious value in the star player department.
9 Quarterback: Nick Foles - Philadelphia Eagles
According to the stats wonks at Football Outsiders, in 2013, Nick Foles was the fifth-most-valuable quarterback in the league. Foles was the 88th overall pick in the 2012 draft, and the Eagles signed him to a four-year, $2.7 million contract. The contract is the traditional type offered to rookies under the current CBA, and thanks to the agreement, Foles will not be able to renegotiate his deal with Philadelphia until the end of the 2014 season. Thus, Philadelphia is getting a tremendous bargain under center again in 2014.
Foles threw for 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2013 (in just 13 starts, no less). He earned a $500,000 base salary, along with a $135,000 instalment of his signing bonus, and $20,000 in other miscellaneous money for his efforts. The Eagles paid him roughly $226 for each passing yard and $24,291 for each passing TD.
By comparison, Matt Ryan, the quarterback who Football Outsiders pegged as the fourth-most-valuable in the league (one spot ahead of Foles) earned $9.6 million in 2013 and threw for 4,515 yards and 26 touchdowns. Thus, the Falcons paid Ryan $369,230 per TD and $2,126 for each yard he passed the football.
8 Running Back: Alfred Morris - Washington Redskins
“Bentley”-driving Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris was fourth in the league in rushing in 2013 with 1,275 yards gained on the ground. Given the sixth-round draft pick’s $510,775 salary for the season, the ‘Skins were effectively paying Morris $400 per rushing yard. And with the Florida Atlantic alum due to receive just $600,775 in 2014 (third season of his rookie contract), they’re likely to derive tremendous value again.
To put Morris’ $400 per yard rate in perspective, LeSean McCoy, who lead the league with 1,607 yards rushing, collected a total paycheck of $4.912 million for 2013. Thus the Eagles paid McCoy $3,056 per rushing yard for the season.
7 Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman - New England Patriots
The New England Patriots effectively paid Julian Edelman $9,619 for each of his 105 catches. Distributing the wide receiver’s $1.01 million, one-year salary across his total receiving yards (1,056) indicates that the former Kent State quarterback earned $956 per receiving yard in 2013. Edelman will likely get paid big bucks in free agency, however, and isn’t likely to be producing this kind of value in 2014.
Here’s someone who likely will deliver: Alshon Jeffery. And thanks to his rookie contract, the wide receiver will be grossly underpaid for his efforts, relatively speaking. In 2013, Jeffery snagged 89 passes for 1,421 yards. The Chicago Bears paid the receiver $13,932 per catch and $872 per yard in 2013.
6 Tight End: Jordan Cameron - Cleveland Browns
Three-year veteran Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns caught 80 passes last season, which was third among tight ends. In addition, he totalled 917 receiving yards, which was second behind Jeremy Graham. The Browns paid Cameron a total of $674,350 for his services in 2013, earning the tight end $8,429 per catch and $734 per receiving yard. Cameron was the Browns fourth-round draft pick in 2011. Fortunately for him, he signed his four-year, $2.51 million deal with the team prior to the CBA and is slated to earn $1.5 million in 2014.
5 Left Tackle: Joe Staley - San Francisco 49ers
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley earned $2.8 million for his work in 2013. The 49ers paid the Central Michigan alum $175,000 per start this past season. Joe Thomas, another Pro Bowl selection at left tackle made $11.4 million in 2013, or $712,500 per start. Quite a disparity between two Pro Bowl-caliber players at the same position.
4 Left Guard: Mike Iupati - San Francisco 49ers
Apparently, the San Francisco 49ers are in the habit of having Pro Bowl linemen and not paying them very well. Guard Mike Iupati made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and only received $2.6 million for his services. For a bit of contrast, another Pro Bowl guard, Jahri Evans made $6.7 million for his contributions in 2013. Iupati started 13 games for a per-game rate of $200,000. Evans, for his part, started 14 games. Thus, the Saints paid him $478,571 per start.
3 Center: Mike Pouncey - Miami Dolphins
During the 2014 season, Mike Pouncey is slated to be the 16th-highest-paid center in the NFL. Pouncey, a Pro Bowler in 2013, earned $2.52 million for his work with the Miami Dolphins. The center started 14 games in 2013, making his pay per game just over $180,000. Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers, another Pro Bowl center, earned $6.4 million in 2013 and started all 16 games. Kalil earned $400 grand per start in 2013.
2 Right Guard: Louis Vasquez - Denver Broncos
Louis Vasquez of the AFC Champion Denver Broncos signed a four-year, $23.5 million extension with the team in March of 2013 after a four-year stint in San Diego. Although Vasquez will be the 10th-highest-paid guard in the NFL in 2014, in 2013, the All-Pro earned $3.25 million for his pass protection and run blocking services. A comparable player, Marshal Yanda of the Baltimore Ravens, grossed $7.45 million in 2013. As such, Vasquez earned $203,125 per game, Yanda over twice that at $465,625.
1 Right Tackle: Marcus Cannon - New England Patriots
Right tackles don’t really make the Pro Bowl, so here’s one who stepped up in a big way in 2013 at both tackle and guard: Marcus Cannon of the New England Patriots. The TCU alum, in the third season of his rookie contract, earned just $637,687 for his services. He enters 2014 as the 55th-highest-paid tackle in the league. For the sake of comparison, Doug Free, the Dallas Cowboys' standout right guard earned $6.52 million in 2013. For his 14 games, Cannon earned $45,549 per performance, whereas Free grossed $407,500.
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