After quarterback Matt Ryan received his newest extension with the Atlanta Falcons worth $150 million, it seems only fitting to look at the top paid players around the league at each respective position. Some have deemed themselves worthy of a new payday, while others have robbed their franchises of potential cap space. Here is the top paid player at each given position for the upcoming year, and whether they are worth the given contract:
Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo
2018 Cap Hit: $37 million
Once known as the potential heir to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the franchise dealt away Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers, and eventually paid the price. Since leaving his original team, Garoppolo has undergone a starting record of 5-0, and his numbers are worthy of a starter in today’s game.
With 1,560 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, the 49ers believed that Garoppolo was their franchise player for years to come, and dealt him a contract worth $137.5 million. With only seven starts in his career, is Jimmy Garoppolo worth the payday?
Set to turn 27 in November, a player of Garoppolo’s caliber is not common by any means. I’m not sure if I’m willing to say he’s worth the highest cap hit for any player entering 2018, but San Francisco seems confident about the investment they made.
Running Back: Le’Veon Bell
2018 Cap Hit: $14.5 million
After being tagged for a second straight season, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is set to earn $14.5 million under a one-year deal. While he has pleaded for a long-term contract, the Steelers have yet to find common ground with Bell.
After leading the NFL in rush attempts last year with 321, it was almost certain that Bell would be granted the payday he has desired. When the offer wasn’t put on the table, rumors of Le’Veon Bell sitting out came to speculation. While that won’t be the case for the 2018 season, I can’t imagine Pittsburgh signing Bell under a third consecutive franchise tag after this upcoming season.
The fact of the matter is that Le’Veon Bell as a player is worth every cent, but Le’Veon Bell as a whole package is not. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been forced to play 18 regular season games without Bell since his debut in 2013, and in order to be considered a franchise star, you need to be capable of leading by example.
Wide Receiver: Mike Evans
2018 Cap Hit: $18.2 million
While Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide reciver Mike Evans doesn’t hold the highest overall contract at this position, his $18.2 million cap hit in 2018 is over $1 million more than the next-highest paid receiver (Larry Fitzgerald).
Evans has been dealing with minor injuries throughout his NFL career, but he still has been consistent for the most part. Entering the league in 2014, the wide receiver is averaging 1,144 yards and 8 touchdowns per season.
As the seasons continue, names such as Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. will surely surpass Evans in terms of cap hits. As of 2018, Evans is regarded as one of the top five (low-end) receivers in the game based on dependability. Therefore, his cap hit is worth the return value.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski
2018 Cap Hit: $10.9 million
Currently regarded as the highest-paid tight end in the NFL, there are ongoing rumors about New England attempting to rework Gronkowski’s current contract. With sixteen different injuries over the last eight seasons, the tight end has contemplated his long-term relationship with the league.
When on the field, Gronkowski is surely worth every penny he earns. Totaling 76 touchdowns during his tenure with the Patriots, the soon-to-be 29-year old is already ranked 31st in career receiving touchdowns. In addition, he ranks fourth in career touchdowns among active players.
While it’s entirely possible that Gronkowski takes a pay cut in the near future, he deserves his current contract. Through NFL history, the New England tight end is regarded as one of the most dominant offensive forces to step on the field.
Offensive Line: Tyron Smith
2018 Cap Hit: $17.5 million
Drafted back in 2011, Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Tyron Smith is now regarded as the most valuable linemen in the NFL. With that being said, the veteran only missed one game in his first five seasons, but has missed six games over the last two years.
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line is regarded as the best in the league, but Smith is falling down a steep slope of injuries. In order for the offense for Dallas to be successful, Smith needs to be on the field and opening up the run game in any way possible.
Defensive Line: Fletcher Cox
2018 Cap Hit: $17.9 million
Originally, the highest-paid defensive lineman was Ndamukong Suh entering the 2018 season. With his new deal with the Los Angeles Rams, that leaves Super Bowl defensive lineman Fletcher Cox as the next man up.
With 34 sacks over the course of six seasons, Cox is probably not the first name you thought of when it came to the highest-paid defensive lineman. Regardless, he is signed through the 2022 season.
With other defensive linemen such as Ezekiel Ansah and Demarcus Lawrence playing under their respective franchise tags, the $18+ million mark to beat is entirely possible by the end of the upcoming season. For now, Cox is viewed as more valuable than most NFL stars.
Linebacker: Justin Houston
2018 Cap Hit: $20.6 million
With Houston making over $20.6 million over the course of the 2018 NFL season, it’s important to note that this number will shortly be surpassed by Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who is projected to reel in over $25+ million in 2019.
After a season where Houston reeled in 9.5 sacks in 2017, the highlight of his career was back in 2014, as he lead the league in sacks at 22. Only at 29-years old, he already ranks within the top 100 for most sacks in a career (69.5).
While the Kansas City Chiefs rank 25th at the moment in current cap space, Houston’s demand for a top salary may becoming overbearing at some point in time. After missing most of the 2016 season with an injury, time will tell on whether Houston is the real deal.
Secondary: Josh Norman
2018 Cap Hit: $16.9 million
After debuting with the Carolina Panthers in 2012, Josh Norman then went on to sign with the Washington Redskins on a deal worth $75 million. Since the transition, the Redskins haven’t done much of anything on the defensive side of the ball, and Norman is declining slightly in terms of overall improvement as a player.
With a career-high four interceptions in 2015 with Carolina, Norman was viewed as valuable because of his man-to-man aggressive play style, as well as his league-leading two defensive touchdowns.
Signed through the 2020 season, Norman has put Washington in a “stalling phase” of sorts when it comes to remaining competitive within the NFC East. While the upcoming year could prove otherwise, it doesn’t seem as though Josh Norman is worth a majority of his contract.
Special Teams: Mason Crosby
2018 Cap Hit: $5.2 million
Even though kickers such as Justin Tucker receive more praise, Mason Crosby will be the one with a higher cap hit for the upcoming campaign. Oddly enough though, his numbers have actually decreased in recent seasons.
In terms of Crosby’s FG%, the 2017 season tallied up to 78.9%, which was 7.8% less than the year prior. That exact 78.9% was actually his worst year since the 2012 season. While $5+ million isn’t much in terms of a kicker nowadays, investing this sort of cap space should result in reliability for Green Bay.