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Top 10 bargain deals among NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterbacks, including Vikings’ Justin Jefferson

Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson made NFL history on Monday, becoming the highest-paid non-quarterback ever with a new deal averaging a reported $35 million per year. But Jefferson’s historic on-field production registers the lucrative commitment from Minnesota as quite reasonable. Sometimes, it seems, even the biggest-money deals can feel like bargains, for immeasurable talent often proves priceless in the eyes of NFL contenders.

With that in mind, which handsomely rewarded players could still be considered underpaid? Excluding quarterbacks, who tend to break contractual records at an unmatched pace, here are 10 notable NFL stars who currently rank among the top 10 at their position in terms of per-year earnings, but already appear ripe for a pay raise, thanks to their on-field value:

Note: Salary-cap figures courtesy of Over the Cap.

Per year: $7 million | Position rank: 9th

The former Green Bay Packers standout has yet to take a single snap in Minnesota, and he missed extensive time due to injury in 2023, but his electric multipurpose skill set helped power the Pack’s surprise playoff run, and he’s topped 1,100 scrimmage yards four times. At half the cost of the New Orleans SaintsAlvin Kamara, he has the potential to be a big-time playmaker for a well-stocked Vikings offense in 2024.

Per year: $10 million | Position rank: T-8th

Linebacker isn’t as important as it once was, but Okereke has been a do-it-all machine since becoming a full-timer, excelling as a sideline-to-sideline presence for both the Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants. Since 2021, he’s averaging 90+ tackles and close to five takeaways per season. And he’s done it making significantly less than less durable counterparts like Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds.

Per year: $20 million | Position rank: 1st

Baltimore reset the off-ball linebacker market when it extended the former Chicago Bears stalwart on a $100 million deal. But he’s already living up to, if not exceeding, that investment. One and a half years into his Ravens tenure, Smith has been an unignorable wrecking-ball Defensive Player of the Year candidate, helping anchor a stingy unit and elevate colleagues like the since-departed Patrick Queen.

Per year: $22.5 million | Position rank: T-7th

In five years anchoring New York’s defensive front, Lawrence has gone from solid to elite interior presence, combining for 12 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 49 quarterback hits over the last two seasons. Still just 26, the former first-round draft pick only inked a $90 million extension ahead of the 2023 campaign, but he’s already making $5 million less per year than 2019 draft-mate Christian Wilkins.

Per year:ย $19.1 million |ย Position rank:ย 6th

Freshly paid by Tennessee after the Titans acquired him from the Kansas City Chiefs, Sneed may have been more solid than special before K.C.’s back-to-back Super Bowl runs in 2022-2023, but he had a huge hand in Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive dominance the last two seasons. Physical in coverage while retaining quality ball skills (10 picks in four years), he could help fuel Tennessee’s own turnaround.

Per year:ย $16 million |ย Position rank:ย T-4th

The former New England Patriots interior man has been one of Patrick Mahomes‘ steadiest blockers since coming over to K.C. in 2021, and not even his four Super Bowl rings do justice to his personal role in the championship efforts. An All-Pro honoree in three of his last five seasons, the steely Thuney is actually tied for seventh among interior linemen in per-year earnings if we also include right guards.

Per year:ย $20 million |ย Position rank:ย T-2nd

Philadelphia isn’t stingy when it comes to paying Johnson, the Birds’ longtime right tackle, but that doesn’t mean the five-time Pro Bowler doesn’t represent supreme value. While durability is a perennial concern, Johnson is one of the game’s most respected big men when healthy, especially as a run blocker. In a league where the Chiefs are paying Jawaan Taylor $20 million per year, he still clocks in as a financial steal.

Per year: $13.5 million | Position rank: 9th

The Chiefs did fine moving off Ward in 2022 free agency, but the corner went from serviceable to championship-caliber staple with San Francisco, parlaying a solid debut into a dominant 2023. While he may benefit from the rest of the 49ers’ physical defense, Ward’s NFL-leading 23 pass deflections last year, plus a career-high five picks, were instrumental in helping San Francisco challenge for the ultimate crown.

2. Vikings WR Justin Jefferson

Per year: $35 million | Position rank: 1st

Wait, what? The highest-paid non-quarterback in history is … a bargain? Obviously “Jets” must keep up his prolific pass-catching production to justify such a lofty deal, but at full speed, there’s little denying Jefferson is one of, if not the most consistently explosive playmaker in the entire NFL. He makes getting open — and breaking deep scores — look easier than all his peers. And considering fellow wideouts like A.J. Brown and Amon-Ra St. Brown just cleared $30 million per year on new deals, imagine what he might’ve gotten if he’d actually hit free agency.

Per year: $23.5 million | Position rank: 8th

Edge rusher might be more important to NFL teams than all but quarterbacks and receivers, and Crosby has been ferociously effective playing the part, averaging almost 10.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hits per year over five seasons. Yet counterparts like Brian Burns and Montez Sweat, who’ve combined for two double-digit sack seasons, make significantly more on superior defenses. Think Raiders and you think Crosby’s tenacity. The wild man’s undying persistence makes him one of the top values in the game.

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Author: Cody Benjamin
June 3, 2024 | 4:15 pm

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