I want to start off by saying that rookie contracts do not count toward the best contracts as many great players are still being underpaid on their rookie deals. Also these rankings are about contracts that are best for the team not the player.
10. Eric Weddle
Weddle signed a 4-year $26 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason. Making $6.5 million a year is decent money for a safety, but it wasn’t enough compensation for what Weddle has done in his career and what he will bring to the Ravens. Now, I know that Weddle is 31-years old and he will be a shell of himself in a couple of years, so I can understand why he isn’t making top money for a safety. What I love about this deal from the Raven’s side is that here is $13 million in guaranteed money. This means that after exactly two years, the Ravens won’t lose much money at all by cutting him. The Ravens will get Weddle for pretty much the last two years of his career where he can contribute at a high level and then there is no risk after that.
9. Rob Gronkowski
When looking at Gronk’s contract, he is obviously making top money for tight end, but he is actually the fifth-highest paid tight end in the league. Gronkowski is the unanimous top player at his position, so why isn’t he being paid as such? It’s because he signed a 6-year $54 million deal in 2014. Since then the salary cap has risen and it will only continue to rise in the coming years. Gronkowski won’t become a free agent until 2020, which means that he has about four more years of being underpaid at his position. With the salary cap rising each year, the top tight end could end up getting $12-13 million a year and the Patriots will be paying Gronk far less.
8. Michael Bennett
Michael Bennett never seems to get the love that he deserves, whether it be in the media, by fans, or even in his salary. Michael Bennett earns just over $7 million annually in his contract, which is less than half of what Fletcher Cox, Olivier Vernon, and Robert Quinn make. Many, myself included, would say that he is better than all three of those previous players. The Seahawks have locked up Bennett for two more years on this salary, and it’s not every day that a team can get a top 8 defensive end for that price.
7. T.J. Ward
Ward showed just how valuable he was to Denver’s historic defense when he brought his hard-hitting, aggressive style to the playoffs. Ward has always been a solid safety and one of the hardest hitters the league has to offer. Throughout the playoffs, Ward showed that he is one of the most underpaid safeties in the league. Currently, Ward is the 17th highest paid safety, but you could easily make the argument that he is a top 10 safety. The Broncos will have him for two more years on this team-friendly salary.
6. Gary Barnidge
I’m sure the Browns, and everyone on the entire planet for that matter, had no idea that Barnidge would produce the way that he did in 2015. I still need to see another year of Barnidge to believe that he is capable of consistently producing like he did last year. Let’s assume that Barnidge does produce consistently like we expect him too. If that is so, then the Browns have gotten one of the game’s best tight ends for an absolute steal. Barnidge is only making about $4 million per season, which makes him the 20th highest paid tight end in the league. Barnidge is being paid with the likes of Mercedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks, and Brandon Pettigrew. Few things are going right for the Browns these days, but this is one of those rare positives on the team.
5. Julian Edelman
After the 2013 season, the Patriots signed Edelman to a very team-friendly deal that would only pay him $4.25 million annually. While Edelman may struggle with injuries, when he is on the field for the Patriots, he is one of the most reliable receivers in the league. The man dubbed “Minitron” averaged 77 YPG last season, though he only played in nine games. Had he played a full season, Edelman’s stats would have looked like this: 108 receptions for 1,230 yards and 10 TD’s. Obviously, there is a lot of speculation in those numbers, but the way that Edelman was playing - plus Tom Brady’s increased trust in him - would guarantee him a season in which he would catch for well over 1,000 yards. The Patriots have Edelman is currently the 36th highest paid wide receiver in the league. For $4.25 million per season, the Patriots will get a player that has cracked the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players list two years in a row and likely will for third time next season.
4. Evan Mathis
When looking at the league’s top-5 guards, Mathis has been a mainstay for the past four to five years. Mathis is 34 and will turn 35 midway through the season, so concerns about his age are definitely there. After joining the Cardinals this offseason, Mathis will be playing for his third team in as many years. What I love about this deal, aside from the value of only $4 million, is the longevity of the deal. It is only a one-year deal, so if Mathis slows down in his 12th season, the Cardinals will have long-term commitment. I also love that the Cardinals fill a need with this pick. Carson Palmer is 36-years old now, and his body will not be able to take many big hits going forward, so reinforcing the offensive line will help Palmer keep his MVP-level form from last season.
3. Elvis Dumervil
Remember the Elvis Dumervil from two years ago? The one that posted 17 sacks? I know that he had a down season last year with only 6 sacks, but Dumervil has never posted back to back double-digit sack seasons in a row, so I don’t think that this is Dumervil regressing with age. If history and the stat sheets are correct, Dumervil should come back with a double-digit sack season this year. I know that he is 32-years old now, but we are not far removed from seeing him post 17 sacks, so he definitely still has the ability in him to be a top 3-4 outside linebacker. The Ravens are lucky because he isn’t being paid like one at all. Dumervil is currently the 20th highest paid 3-4 outside linebacker in the league, despite being a force on the outside every season, even if the stats don’t show it. The Ravens have this team-friendly contract attached to the former Pro Bowler for another two years.
2. Chris Harris Jr.
Just like Michael Bennett, Chris Harris Jr. never seems to get the recognition he deserves, and just like Bennett, his contract reflects that. Harris will make $8.5 million per year with his contract that he signed in 2014. Now, top corners get paid between $13-15 million per year, and Harris is no doubt a top-5 corner in the league. Finding a true shutdown corner that play man coverage against a team’s best receiver is hard to find, and there are only a few of them in the league today. The Broncos are lucky to have locked one up on that kind of salary until 2020.
1. Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown is without a doubt a top-3 receiver in the league, and in my mind, he is the best the league has to offer. Brown is currently the 18th highest paid receiver in the league. This is insane to me and the Steelers will be paying him a little over $8 million for the next two years to be producing near 1,800 yards a season and consistently catching 100+ balls a year. In 2018, Brown will no doubt be the highest paid receiver in the league, but for now, the Steelers get by on the best team-friendly contract in the entire league.