Finding value deals is key for NFL franchises, and while the most common way of doing so is with players on rookie contracts, this isn’t the only way. Every season, we see a number of players make impacts well above their salaries, and this year is no different. These five players and three honorable mentions epitomize out-producing their pay. Since all are on one-year “prove-it” deals, each veteran will have the opportunity to potentially cash in on bigger deals this offseason.
Packers LB De’Vondre Campbell
2021 Cap Hit: $2,000,000 (55th among ILBs)
Campbell has been a godsend for the Packers, a team that has needed to upgrade their inside linebacker position for years. He has the second highest PFF grade among LBs with at least 100 snaps. Since Micah Parsons has arguably been more of an edge rusher this season, one can argue that Campbell leads the position. He is 8th in the NFL in tackles and sports the lowest missed tackle rate of all players with at least 100 tackles. He will almost certainly be a Pro Bowler and potentially even an All-Pro, all for a price tag lower than that of many backups at the same position. Campbell has undoubtedly been one of the biggest bargains of the season and was arguably the best signing of last offseason, and expect a pay increase this upcoming offseason.
ILBs making slightly more than Campbell include: Tyler Matakevich (0 starts), Zeke Turner (0 starts), Jon Bostic (4 starts before injury and the 4th worst PFF grade at the position)
Cowboys EDGE Randy Gregory
2021 Cap Hit: $2,200,000 (76th among EDGEs)
Randy Gregory has played for the Cowboys his entire career since they selected him towards the end of the second round in 2015. Four different substance abuse-related suspensions really drove down his market, causing him to end up with the heavily incentive-based contract he’s currently playing on with a maximum value of $2.2 million when he was reinstated in September of 2020. That value will likely rise quite a bit this offseason, even if the risk related to his past suspensions may hold him back. That is because he ranks 11th among EDGE’s with 100 or more snaps in PFF grade and 11th among all players with 100 or more pass rushing snaps in pressure rate. He is also tied for 29th in both sacks and pressures despite missing four weeks with a calf strain. Now that he’s back healthy, Gregory can continue adding to his resume as one of the most underpaid players in the NFL this season.
EDGEs making slightly more than Gregory include: Ryan Kerrigan (13 games, 0 sacks, 3 tackles), Jihad Ward (13 games, 1 sack, 2 TFL), Jeremiah Attaochu (5 games, 0 sacks, 2 tackles)
Packers CB Rasul Douglas
2021 Cap Hit: $990,000 (T-129th among CBs)
Rasul Douglas is the most incredible inclusion on this list when you consider that he was released by two different teams this offseason before ending up on the Cardinals practice squad. The 2017 3rd round pick was added by the Packers off their practice squad before Week 5 and debuted in Week 6. He really hasn’t looked back since, with the 15th best PFF Grade among CBs with 100 or more snaps. He is also tied for the 15th most interceptions with 3 (2 of which he returned for TDs in consecutive weeks, becoming the first Packer to do so since 1965), 14th in completion percentage allowed, and sports the 6th best passer rating against.
Douglas was brought in at a time where the Packers were dealing with huge issues in the secondary, but his solid performances have pushed the issue and helped him pass Kevin King on their depth chart as he continues to make his case for a permanent starting job. Doing all this while being paid like a mere depth player is incredible, especially considering that’s how the league seemed to view him just a few months ago.
CBs making the same amount as Douglas include: Nate Hairston (94 total defensive snaps), Rashard Robinson (5 games, 14 defensive snaps), Torry McTyer (4 games, 42 defensive snaps)
Falcons RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson
2021 Cap Hit: $3,000,000 (T-77th among RBs and WRs)
Shoehorning Patterson into a single position does a disservice to his overall value, so the best way to describe him would truly be “offensive weapon.” The Falcons invested solid money in him coming off consecutive Pro Bowl seasons at kick returner, including one All-Pro selection, but they had more planned for him. Nobody saw this coming from a player who hadn’t exceeded 500 scrimmage yards since 2014 or 650 scrimmage yards ever, but Patterson is already above 1000 scrimmage yards with career highs in rushing and receiving yards and touchdowns. He ranks second in the NFL in all-purpose yards when you factor in his kick returns, though he hasn’t been as elite in that area as he was the past two years. Atlanta certainly isn’t complaining, though, as he’s more than made up for it. Patterson has the 10th highest PFF Grade among all offensive players, with just Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams being higher among WRs and no RB above him.
At 30 years old, it’s worth wondering how long he can be expected to produce at this level, but this season has been incredible from him, and he’s made himself indispensable to the Falcons offense to the point where they haven’t scored in any of the six quarters that he hasn’t played in.
RB/WRs making slightly more than Patterson include: Jalen Reagor (56.5% catch rate, 16 yards per game), Jalen Richard (6 games, 53 total yards from scrimmage), Allen Hurns (Wrist injury in preseason has made him miss the whole season)
Cowboys SAF Jayron Kearse
2021 Cap Hit: $1,127,500 (T-74th among SAFs)
Jayron Kearse has been a key contributor to the much-improved Cowboys defense this season, leading them in tackles with 88 and missing just 3, good for the second-best rate among players with at least as many tackles as he has. He is tied for 13th at the safety position in PFF grade among those with at least 100 snaps, showing his ability to be a solid starter for such a low price. It is often said that availability is the best ability, and he has been playing nearly 95% of defensive snaps. This was not so much the case in 2020, when he missed the first three games for a substance abuse suspension that hurt his eventual free-agent market. He hasn’t been a dominant player, but he’s been a very solid and versatile starter while being paid like a backup.
SAFs making slightly more than Kearse include: Nate Ebner (6 games, 0 defensive snaps), MJ Stewart (9 games, 105 defensive snaps), Ricardo Allen (10 games, 137 defensive snaps)
Raiders CB Casey Hayward
2021 Cap Hit: $2,500,000 (T-61st among CBs)
- 13th among CBs with 100+ snaps in PFF Grade
- 7th lowest completion percentage allowed
- Tied for the most coverage snaps without allowing a touchdown
Cardinals RB James Conner
2021 Cap Hit: $1,750,000 (T-43rd among RBs)
- Tied for 2nd in the NFL in total touchdowns
- Tied for 9th most runs for first downs
Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette
2021 Cap Hit: $3,250,000 (T-21st among RBs)
- 9th in yards from scrimmage
- Tied for 8th in total touchdowns
- 1st among RBs in receptions