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NFL rookie contracts are truly beautiful things for teams. Those deals save sides millions of dollars of cap space, meaning that players who are stars right out of college are absolute bargains for at least a few years before they are able to cash in on new and pricey contracts.
The ten players highlighted in this piece are not just some of the better young stars in the NFL. Each is one of the best players at his particular position in all of the league. One is a quarterback who set records. Two are maybe the best two tight ends in all of the NFL.
Spoiler alert (although it shouldn't come as a surprise): Last but not least is a QB who out-dueled Peyton Manning on Super Bowl Sunday. Here are the top 10 NFL bargains for last season.
10 Nick Foles - QB - Philadelphia Eagles: $655,880 in 2013
Foles had to have known entering the regular season that it was only a matter of time before Philadelphia starting quarterback Michael Vick went down to some injury. That is exactly what happened, and Foles went on as good a run as did any quarterback NOT named Peyton Manning in 2013. He tied an NFL record when he threw seven touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders in November, and he finished the campaign with 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 13 games played.
There will, barring an unexpected event, be no questions about who the starting quarterback of the Eagles will be next September. Philadelphia's offense now belongs to Foles. When you consider all that he achieved in 2013, Foles' ceiling seems as high as any quarterback's in the NFL today.
9 Alshon Jeffery - WR - Chicago Bears: $1,033,598 in 2013
Brandon Marshall remains No. 1 on the Chicago depth chart, but it's Jeffery who emerged as arguably the team's biggest offensive star in 2013. Jeffery went for 89 receptions, 1,421 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his breakout season, and more than a few people noticed. He was named the Most Improved Player of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America.
Marshall, who caught 100 passes and had 12 touchdowns last season, turns 30 years old in March. Jeffery is only 24. No wonder quarterback Jay Cutler ended up staying in Chicago.
8 Eddie Lacy - RB - Green Bay Packers: $616,802 in 2013
It turns out that not all running backs out of Alabama are major busts. I guess Trent Richardson never got the memo.
Lacy was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, an honor that he absolutely earned. He rushed for 1,178 yards, good for eighth-best in the league, and Lacy found the end zone on 11 occasions. He also added 35 receptions to his impressive NFL resume.
The Packers have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers. It appears that Green Bay has found a young franchise running back. The rich get richer once again.
7 Alfred Morris - RB - Washington Redskins: $510,775 in 2013
The Redskins were downright terrible in 2013, going 3-13 before experiencing a coaching overhaul in the winter.
Morris can't be blamed for the team's woes. While he didn't match the monster numbers he put up as a rookie in 2012, Morris did rush for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns. The big concern regarding the second-year back is that he has, in the past two years, put the ball on the ground nine total times.
Seven of those fumbles were lost.
Professional running backs of about any age can be taught how to hold onto the football. Ask Tiki Barber if you don't believe me. Morris doing just that is a must if he is to become one of the best backs in the NFL.
6 Jordan Cameron - TE - Cleveland Browns: $674,350 in 2013
2013 was Cameron's third season in the league. He had, in his first two years, caught a total of 26 passes. He also had one touchdown in his first 22 games played.
Then came September 2013. Cameron exploded for five touchdowns and 30 catches in the first month of the season, during which he was largely unstoppable. While his scoring output cooled significantly in the final three-fourths of the campaign, he finished the season with 80 catches and seven touchdowns. Only two tight ends in the league topped what Cameron accomplished.
One of those guys has retired, while the other will be mentioned later on in this piece.
5 Colin Kaepernick - QB - San Francisco 49ers: $1,397,535 in 2013
Critics are harsh on Kaepernick because he isn't a perfect QB, and it's ridiculous every time they are. All Kaepernick has done is play in two NFC Championship Games, one of which he won and another that was lost because of a historically good defensive stop. The following teams would upgrade their depth charts by landing Kaepernick:
Dallas, Chicago, Minnesota, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Arizona, St. Louis, Miami, New York Jets, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Houston, Kansas City, and Oakland.
So what if Kaepernick isn't in the very top tier of NFL QBs? That doesn't at all mean that he isn't great. He can start for me any day of the week.
4 Julian Edelman - WR - New England Patriots: $765,000 in 2013
Edelman is yet another reason for why so many fans around the country cannot stand the Patriots. It's because New England does so little wrong. Edelman was the 232nd overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, and all he did last season was go for 105 receptions, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. That's not bad for a guy who is generously listed at 5'10" and 198 pounds.
There are reports out there that Edelman could enter free agency this offseason. Quarterback Tom Brady and the current New England coaching staff aren't going anywhere, and thus neither should Edelman. Give the Pats the hometown discount, Mr. Edelman, and thank the football gods you landed where you did five years ago.
3 Josh Gordon - WR - Cleveland Browns: $1,139,564 in 2013
It was just two summers ago that the Walter Football website called the Browns grabbing Gordon in the Supplemental Draft a “C+” move. Whoops. Gordon was the best wide receiver in the NFL for a three-game stretch last season, and he ended the year with 87 receptions, 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns.
Thanks to Gordon and to the previously mentioned Cameron, there are many smart football people out there who believe that the Browns are but a franchise quarterback away from being a legitimate contender. That QB could be Brian Hoyer, who will be coming off of a torn ACL, or he could be found in the upcoming NFL Draft.
2 Jimmy Graham - TE - New Orleans Saints: $1,489,285 in 2013
Graham is, in a nutshell, the best tight end in the business. He caught 86 passes and finished the year with 1,215 receiving yards. Graham averaged one touchdown per regular season game played as well.
No, seriously. He had 16 touchdowns in 2013. The Jacksonville Jaguars averaged 15.4 points last season.
There's only one problem pertaining to Graham being on this list, and it's that he isn't going to be a bargain any longer, especially if he gets paid the $12.3 million. Graham is going to deservedly cash in this offseason, either by being franchised by the Saints or by signing a new and expensive deal. It seems safe to say that this will be the last time Graham will be a bargain for any NFL team.
1 Russell Wilson - QB - Seattle Seahawks: $681,085 in 2013
Wilson promised the Seahawks big things when Seattle drafted him in the third round two years ago. He has delivered beyond anyone's wildest expectations, so much so that he has changed the way some view smaller quarterbacks. That will likely be good news for Johnny Manziel, but that's neither here nor there for this piece.
Wilson, size aside, could be the prototype of what will be the future NFL quarterback. He's mobile, but he uses his feet to extend plays so he can locate and hit open wide receivers. He's accurate, and he has a strong arm. Wilson also happens to be a champion, and he would deserve to sit atop this list even if he was making considerably more money.