GOBankingRates

The Biggest Bargain on Every NFL Roster

Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Patrick Smith / Getty Images

The name players in the NFL get all the attention, but every roster in the league has at least one low-budget player who brings a big-time return to his team, one whose performance far outpaces his paycheck. Just look no further than Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings, who played the 2020 season for rookie-level money and wound up as a Pro Bowl selection, as an example. With the 2021 NFL set to kick off Sept. 9, which player will turn out to be the steal of the season?

See: The Highest-Paid NFL Player in Every Position
Read: Which NFL Hall of Famer Has the Highest Net Worth?

To discover the biggest bargain on every NFL roster — and Jefferson is one of them — GOBankingRates analyzed every active player on all 32 teams and his salary-cap hit for the 2021 season. Once these data points were collected, GOBankingRates found the average cap hit for each team, and then set out to discover which players earning below or near the average cap hit deserved to be paid more. You might be surprised by some of the names on the list.

Note: Data was not available for the Houston Texans, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.

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Rick Scuteri/AP/Shutterstock / Rick Scuteri/AP/Shutterstock

Arizona Cardinals: Chase Edmonds

  • Position: Running back
  • Base salary: $920,000
  • Signing bonus: $113,092
  • Total cap hit: $1,033,092
  • Percentage of total cap: 0.54

Chase Edmonds, a fourth-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2018, has been a reliable backup in his first three seasons in the NFL, running for 959 yards, catching 85 passes for 610 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could turn him into the starter in 2021.

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    John Bazemore/AP/Shutterstock / John Bazemore/AP/Shutterstock

    Atlanta Falcons: Younghoe Koo

    • Position: Kicker
    • Base salary: $920,000
    • Signing bonus: $0
    • Total cap hit: $920,000
    • Percentage of total cap: 0.5

    Younghoe Koo booted an NFL-leading 37 field goals last season, including all eight attempts from 50 yards-plus. Only Brandon McManus of the Denver Broncos drilled more from long range.

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    Nick Wass/AP/Shutterstock / Nick Wass/AP/Shutterstock

    Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson

    • Position: Quarterback
    • Base salary: $1,771,588
    • Signing bonus: $1,242,120
    • Total cap hit: $3,013,708
    • Percentage of total cap: 1.65

    Lamar Jackson is a deal only for now. The 2019 league Most Valuable Player is at the end of his four-year, $9.5 million rookie pact, and the Ravens have picked up his 2022 option at $23 million. For 2023 and beyond, he’s looking at a deal that will make him a mega-millionaire.

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    Adrian Kraus/AP/Shutterstock / Adrian Kraus/AP/Shutterstock

    Buffalo Bills: Gabriel Davis

      • Position: Wide receiver
      • Base salary: $780,000
      • Signing bonus: $174,845
      • Total cap hit: $954,845
      • Percentage of total cap: 0.51

      Gabriel Davis had a solid rookie season in 2020, catching 35 passes for 599 yards with seven touchdowns. He could be a target for quarterback Josh Allen for years to come.

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      Gerry Broome/AP/Shutterstock / Gerry Broome/AP/Shutterstock

      Carolina Panthers: Jeremy Chinn

        • Position: Strong safety
        • Base salary: $848,249
        • Signing bonus: $342,995
        • Total cap hit: $1,191,244
        • Percentage of total cap: 0.64

        Jeremy Chinn made history as a rookie in 2020 when he became the first player in the Super Bowl era to turn two fumble recoveries into touchdowns in the same game. More remarkably, he scored them on back plays from scrimmage against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 29, 2000.

        Ben Margot/AP/Shutterstock / Ben Margot/AP/Shutterstock

        Chicago Bears: David Montgomery

        • Position: Running back
        • Base salary: $850,032
        • Signing bonus: $261,545
        • Total cap hit: $1,111,577
        • Percentage of total cap: 0.58

        The Bears selected the 5-foot-10 back in the third round of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2019 NFL Draft. He had a breakout season in 2020, rushing for 1,070 yards with 438 more coming through the air. He scored 12 total touchdowns, and his 1,508 total yards from scrimmage were fifth most in the NFL.

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        Zach Bolinger/AP/Shutterstock / Zach Bolinger/AP/Shutterstock

        Cincinnati Bengals: Tee Higgins

        • Position: Wide receiver
        • Base salary: $1,004,854
        • Signing bonus: $969,416
        • Total cap hit: $1,974,270
        • Percentage of total cap: 1.01

        The Bengals will be looking for a new No. 1 receiver after the departure of veteran A.J. Green, and Higgins could be it. A hamstring injury sustained in the final game of the 2020 season kept Higgins from the chance to break the franchise record for receptions by a rookie in a season, set by Cris Collinsworth in 1981. The record, which Higgins now shares, is 67.

        Ron Schwane/AP/Shutterstock / Ron Schwane/AP/Shutterstock

        Cleveland Browns: Malcolm Smith

          • Position: Outside linebacker
          • Base salary: $1,075,000
          • Signing bonus: $137,500
          • Total cap hit: $987,500
          • Percentage of total cap: 0.47

          After his release by the San Francisco 49ers before the 2019 season, the veteran Malcolm Smith had a tough time finding a team. The Browns signed the former Super Bowl MVP to a bargain deal in 2020, and he produced 72 tackles with a sack, interception and forced fumble also on the stat sheet. He signed a similar contract for 2021.

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          Chris Szagola/AP/Shutterstock / Chris Szagola/AP/Shutterstock

          Dallas Cowboys: Dalton Schultz

            • Position: Tight end
            • Base salary: $2,183,000
            • Signing bonus: $113,092
            • Total cap hit: $2,296,092
            • Percentage of total cap: 1.09

            Dalton Schultz could emerge as the top tight end for the Cowboys in 2021. Schultz — and all the Cowboys’ receivers — will be catching passes for a much richer man, however. Quarterback Dak Prescott signed a whopping four-year, $160 million contract in the offseason that will pay him a base salary of $9 million this season, but he has a $66 million signing bonus in his pocket.

            Danny Karnik/AP/Shutterstock / Danny Karnik/AP/Shutterstock

            Denver Broncos: Malik Reed

              • Position: Outside linebacker
              • Base salary: $850.000
              • Signing bonus: $5,000
              • Total cap hit: $855,000
              • Percentage of total cap: 0.43

              Undrafted rookie free agents, especially those from smaller colleges, don’t get much of a signing bonus, and that’s the case with Malik Reed (Nevada). The Broncos’ small investment in him has paid off, however. In his second NFL season in 2020, he started 13 of 16 games, had 53 tackles and left quarterbacks in fear. He recorded eight sacks and 17 QB hits.

              Carlos Osorio/AP/Shutterstock / Carlos Osorio/AP/Shutterstock

              Detroit Lions: D’Andre Swift

              • Position: Running back
              • Base salary: $998,132
              • Signing bonus: $942,530
              • Total cap hit: $1,940,662
              • Percentage of total cap: 0.98

              D’Andre Swift had a productive rookie season in Detroit, scoring 10 touchdowns and gaining 878 yards from scrimmage. He’ll be a weapon for new Lions quarterback Jared Goff, acquired in an offseason trade from the Los Angeles Rams.

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                John Fisher/CSM/Shutterstock / John Fisher/CSM/Shutterstock

                Green Bay Packers: Elgton Jenkins

                  • Position: Guard
                  • Base salary: $1,111,602
                  • Signing bonus: $738,203
                  • Total cap hit: $1,849,805
                  • Percentage of total cap: 0.99

                  The 311-pound offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins has a big job: protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the league MVP. A Mississippi State alum, Jenkins became the first Green Bay offensive lineman to start at three positions in the same season since 1970 last season.

                  Matt Patterson/AP/Shutterstock / Matt Patterson/AP/Shutterstock

                  Houston Texans: N/A

                  • Accurate data was not available for the Houston Texans.
                  Michael Conroy/AP/Shutterstock / Michael Conroy/AP/Shutterstock

                  Indianapolis Colts: Jonathan Taylor

                    • Position: Running back
                    • Base salary: $965,870
                    • Signing bonus: $813,482
                    • Total cap hit: $1,779,352
                    • Percentage of total cap: 0.93

                    Jonathan Taylor ran for 6,174 yards — including two 2,000-yard seasons — in his storied college career at Wisconsin. His first NFL season in 2021 showed promise as he ran for 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games.

                    Romeo Guzman/CSM/Shutterstock / Romeo Guzman/CSM/Shutterstock

                    Jacksonville Jaguars: James Robinson

                      • Position: Running back
                      • Base salary: $780,000
                      • Signing bonus: $1,666
                      • Total cap hit: $781,666
                      • Percentage of total cap: 0.37

                      James Robinson eats up a minuscule portion of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting camp but paid huge dividends in 2020. He gained 1,414 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 touchdowns.

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                      Isaac Brekken/AP/Shutterstock / Isaac Brekken/AP/Shutterstock

                      Kansas City Chiefs: Daniel Sorensen

                      • Position: Strong safety
                      • Base salary: $2,325,000
                      • Signing bonus: $137,500
                      • Total cap hit: $1,212,500
                      • Percentage of total cap: 0.64 

                      The Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs offense is known for its ability to score points, but someone has to keep the opponents from scoring, too. That responsibility falls in part to Sorensen, who had three interceptions and played 82% of the team’s defensive snaps last season.

                      Isaac Brekken/AP/Shutterstock / Isaac Brekken/AP/Shutterstock

                      Las Vegas Raiders: Maxx Crosby

                      • Position: Defensive end
                      • Base salary: $850,000
                      • Signing bonus: $195,566
                      • Total cap hit: $1,045,566
                      • Percentage of total cap: 0.55

                      In just two seasons since the Raiders drafted him, Maxx Crosby has seen a lot of playing time. He’s appeared in all 32 games and been on the field for more than 1,900 snaps.

                      Mark LoMoglio/AP/Shutterstock / Mark LoMoglio/AP/Shutterstock

                      Los Angeles Chargers: Kenneth Murray

                      • Position: Inside linebacker
                      • Base salary: $1,199,770
                      • Signing bonus: $1,749,080
                      • Total cap hit: $2,948,850
                      • Percentage of total cap: 1.54

                      The Chargers’ Kenneth Murray got his NFL career off to a rousing start as a rookie in 2020. He registered 107 tackles in 16 games.

                      Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock / Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

                      Los Angeles Rams: Troy Reeder

                      • Position: Inside linebacker
                      • Base salary: $850,000
                      • Signing bonus: $4,000
                      • Total cap hit: $854,000
                      • Percentage of total cap: 0.46

                      The Rams, who share SoFi Stadium with the Chargers, have a young, high-impact linebacker of their own. As an undrafted free agent signee, Troy Reeder’s signing bonus was just $4,000, compared to the nearly $1.75 million the Chargers paid to Murray.

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                      Rick Scuteri/AP/Shutterstock / Rick Scuteri/AP/Shutterstock

                      Miami Dolphins: Mike Gesicki

                      • Position: Tight end
                      • Base salary: $1,381,626
                      • Signing bonus: $722,168
                      • Total cap hit: $2,103,794
                      • Percentage of total cap: 1.07

                      Mike Gesicki is entering his fourth season in the NFL, the time when teams decide whether they will pick up a player’s fifth-year option or let them walk away after their fourth season. Gesicki’s stats in his first three seasons make a case for a lucrative contract extension.

                      Bruce Kluckhohn/AP/Shutterstock / Bruce Kluckhohn/AP/Shutterstock

                      Minnesota Vikings: Justin Jefferson

                        • Position: Wide receiver
                        • Base salary: $1,206,491
                        • Signing bonus: $1,775,964
                        • Total cap hit: $2,982,455
                        • Percentage of total cap: 1.59

                        Justin Jefferson, a first-round draft pick for the Vikings in 2020, outperformed the value of the first year of his contract. After catching 88 passes for 1,400 yards with seven touchdowns, Jefferson was named to the All-Rookie and Pro Bowl teams.

                        Eric Christian Smith/AP/Shutterstock / Eric Christian Smith/AP/Shutterstock

                        New England Patriots: Chase Winovich

                          • Position: Defensive end
                          • Base salary: $850,000
                          • Signing bonus: $249,328
                          • Total cap hit: $1,099,328
                          • Percentage of total cap: 0.53

                          The Patriots’ Chase Winovich has had his eyes on the opposing quarterback in his first two NFL seasons. In 32 games, he’s tallied 74 tackles, 11 sacks and 22 quarterback hits.

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                          Butch Dill/AP/Shutterstock / Butch Dill/AP/Shutterstock

                          New Orleans Saints: N/A

                          • Accurate data was not available for the New Orleans Saints.
                          Adam Hunger/AP/Shutterstock / Adam Hunger/AP/Shutterstock

                          New York Giants: Darius Slayton

                          • Position: Wide receiver
                          • Base salary: $850,000
                          • Signing bonus: $58,497
                          • Total cap hit: $908,497
                          • Percentage of total cap: 0.49

                          The Giants seemingly made a wise fifth-round selection in the 2019 draft. In 30 career games, Darius Slayton is averaging an impressive 15.2 yards per reception to go with 11 touchdowns.

                          Kyusung Gong/AP/Shutterstock / Kyusung Gong/AP/Shutterstock

                          New York Jets: N/A

                          • Accurate data was not available for the New York Jets.
                          David Richard/AP/Shutterstock / David Richard/AP/Shutterstock

                          Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Hurts

                            • Position: Quarterback
                            • Base salary: $883,871
                            • Signing bonus: $485,486
                            • Total cap hit: $1,369,357
                            • Percentage of total cap: 0.66

                            A second-round draft pick in 2020, Jalen Hurts is expected to start at quarterback for Philadelphia in 2021. The Eagles must have liked what they saw from Hurts in limited action last season. They shipped big-salary quarterback Carson Wentz to Indianapolis in the offseason.

                            Phelan M Ebenhack/AP/Shutterstock / Phelan M Ebenhack/AP/Shutterstock

                            Pittsburgh Steelers: Diontae Johnson

                              • Position: Wide receiver
                              • Base salary: $884,178
                              • Signing bonus: $283,357
                              • Total cap hit: $1,167,535
                              • Percentage of total cap: 0.62

                              Diontae Johnson led the Steelers last season with 923 yards receiving. He is one of a trio of young receivers — JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool are the others — for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to target.

                              Winslow Townson/AP/Shutterstock / Winslow Townson/AP/Shutterstock

                              San Francisco 49ers: Jeff Wilson

                                • Position: Running back
                                • Base salary: $920,000
                                • Signing bonus: $1,130,000
                                • Total cap hit: $2,050,000
                                • Percentage of total cap: 1.05

                                Jeff Wilson will start the 2021 season on the sidelines after suffering a torn meniscus in May in non-contact activities at the team facilities. He had surgery that requires a recovery time of four to six months.

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                                Stephen Brashear/AP/Shutterstock / Stephen Brashear/AP/Shutterstock

                                Seattle Seahawks: D.K. Metcalf

                                  • Position: Wide receiver
                                  • Base salary: $911,914
                                  • Signing bonus: $338,827
                                  • Total cap hit: $1,250,741
                                  • Percentage of total cap: 0.68

                                  A speedster, D.K. Metcalf ran in track sprint races in the offseason. Now, he returns to the football field to run down passes from quarterback Russell Wilson.

                                  Jason Behnken/AP/Shutterstock / Jason Behnken/AP/Shutterstock

                                  Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones II

                                    • Position: Running back
                                    • Base salary: $1,444,351
                                    • Signing bonus: $805,803
                                    • Total cap hit: $2,250,154
                                    • Percentage of total cap: 1.24

                                    Ronald Jones II, known as RoJo, won a Super Bowl in his third season with the Buccaneers in 2020. He scored eight touchdowns for the Tom Brady-led team.

                                    Nick Wass/AP/Shutterstock / Nick Wass/AP/Shutterstock

                                    Tennessee Titans: A.J. Brown

                                      • Position: Wide receiver
                                      • Base salary: $1,008,852
                                      • Signing bonus: $532,703
                                      • Total cap hit: $1,541,555
                                      • Percentage of total cap: 0.81

                                      In his second season in 2020, A.J. Brown made his first Pro Bowl team. He bolstered the Titans offense with 11 touchdowns and 1,075 total yards.

                                      Daniel Kucin Jr/AP/Shutterstock / Daniel Kucin Jr/AP/Shutterstock

                                      Washington Football Team: Antonio Gibson

                                      • Position: Running back
                                      • Base salary: $834,211
                                      • Signing bonus: $286,843
                                      • Total cap hit: $1,121,054
                                      • Percentage of total cap: 0.56

                                      As a 2020 rookie, Antonio Gibson surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage and contributed 11 touchdowns for Washington.

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                                        Methodology: To discover the biggest bargain on every NFL roster, GOBankingRates first found the following for every active player on all 32 NFL team rosters: (1) base salary for 2021; and (2) cap hit for the 2021 season. Once these data points were collected for each player on every team, GOBankingRates found the average cap hit for each team, and then set out to discover which players earning below or near the average cap hit deserved to be paid more. This was determined by either the player below the average cap hit having been a Pro-Bowler or statistical leader during the last season (2020). All contract data was sourced from Spotrac’s NFL active contracts by team and NFL team salary cap tracker data. Pro Bowl roster was sourced from NFL.com and all player stats were sourced from NFL.com. All data was collected on and up to date as of July 28, 2021. Rookies for the 2021 season were not considered. Rosters are subject to change. Note: Data was not available for the Houston Texans, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.