One of the reasons why the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are in the Super Bowl is because they each — in very different ways — have done a great job of massaging the NFL’s salary cap to field competitive teams.
In the Broncos’ case, they are hamstrung by a massive contract for Payton Manning, leaving less room to fill in other spots, especially with some “dead money” from former Broncos Elvis Dumervil and D.J. Williams still infecting their financials.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, are helped by the fact that they have a second-year third-round quarterback in Russell Wilson who doesn’t make that much, relatively speaking, and it has allowed them to commit good money at other positions.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the five most underpaid and overpaid players on the two Super Bowl teams:
1. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — He’s not even the highest-paid Russell on this team; that honor belongs to left tackle Russell Okung, who has a base salary of more than $7 million and a salary-cap figure of more than $10 mil. Wilson is in the second year of his rookie contract, and as a third-round pick he’ll make base salaries (courtesy of overthecap.com) of $526,217 this season and $662,434 next season before he’s allowed to renegotiate his deal. Heck, even backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson ($840,000) and long snapper Chris Maragos ($700,000) have higher bases.
2. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman — You can play the Wilson game with Sherman, too, who makes a base salary of $555,000 in the third year of his rookie contract. But he’s eligible for a renegotiation this offseason, and there are some who believe his famous postgame rant might have earned him millions, so don’t feel too badly for him.
3. Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas — Notice a trend here? We have a lot of players who remain underpaid in their rookie contracts and are due for hefty raises. Thomas most certainly is one of them as the Broncos’ most talented receiver. Although teammate Eric Decker (who also is underpaid) is a free-agent-to-be this offseason, the Broncos will make sure with a higher priority that they can lock up Thomas, who makes a modest base salary of $836,500 this season and counts a very light $2,592,750 against the cap when you count his prorated signing bonus. We call that a bargain.
4. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas — He might be the best safety in the NFL, but he makes a mere $3.66 million in average salary per year, which ranks 21st in the league at the position. Teammate Kam Chancellor is nearly double that mark, so you can bet that Thomas and his people will be giving Seahawks GM John Schneider a call this offseason about redoing the deal.
5. Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker — Decker’s modest contract status (a base salary of $1.3 million and total bonuses over the past four seasons of less than $750,000) will change this offseason as he prepares for free agency. The Broncos would love to have him, but they have a few hurdles to overcome, and some have said that a team such as the New York Jets (whose facilities Decker is working at during Super Bowl week) might be willing to throw more money at him.
1. Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin — He received a six-year, $67 million deal following the trade from the Minnesota Vikings, and so far Harvin has given the team a total of 39 snaps on offense in two games. That obviously will go up with better health, and Harvin has been cleared to go for Super Bowl Sunday. A big game there might make him worth the money. But even if he’s a productive receiver for the next several seasons, his APY value of $12.89M puts him below only two NFL wideouts: Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. That’s a lot to live up to.
2. Broncos tight end Joel Dreesen — He might be an OK blocker, but the Broncos don’t use him enough (he has been inactive for both playoff games) to warrant his nearly $3.7 million cap figure this season. Dreesen had one game in 2013 with more than nine receiving yards, and he’s a strong bet to be inactive Sunday.
3. Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice — He’s hurt and out for the season, but it’s worth noting that he is a serious candidate to be cut in the offseason as the Seahawks make room for all the players they want to keep long term. Rice had a cap figure of $9.7 million this season and the same next year, so he either takes a pay cut … or he’ll be cut. The Seahawks can save millions if they hack him.
4. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey — We feel bad raining on Bailey’s parade, this being his first Super Bowl in his 15 NFL seasons and all. But following a tough season on the field, one in which he earned nearly $11 million, it’s tough not to think that the Broncos paid too much for him. Bailey’s contract is up after the league year ends, and there has been talk he’ll retire or possibly play one more year. At a much cheaper rate, no doubt.
5. Seahawks tight end Zach Miller — What is it with all the inflated tight end salaries? Miller is a solid player and does yeoman’s work as a blocker for Marshawn Lynch and company, but in no way shape or form should he be the league’s ninth-highest paid player at his position. He used one big season as a receiver with the Oakland Raiders to earn his unwieldy five-year, $34 million deal through 2015 (which spiked this season with an $11 million cap hit), and he has had only one game in two seasons with the Seahawks with more than 86 yards receiving.
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