In the four major U.S. sports leagues — the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB — players are well compensated. The minimum annual salary in each league is nearly $500,000, and star players are paid far more, often signing huge contracts worth tens of millions of dollars per year. However, not every player turns out to be worth what he is paid, with some failing to live up to expectations.
Young players can become instant stars, yet they may not make a lot of money because they signed multi-year contracts as unproven rookies. On the other hand, established players can demand long-term deals that pay them handsomely, yet fail to deliver the level of play that made them stars.
It is vital that teams make the most of their budget. Pro sports teams are limited by salary caps and luxury taxes, meaning they have a finite amount of money they can pay players. Teams that spend huge amounts on players that are unable to produce may have set themselves up for years of failure.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed both the salary and performance of all players from the four major U.S. sports to determine the most overpaid athletes across the four leagues.
It can be tough to determine exactly what one player is worth. They may not have impressive statistics, but can contribute to team chemistry and offer leadership, which can be crucial factors to a team’s success. Unfortunately, there is no way to account for intangibles, so we ranked athletes based on the metric that best encapsulated their overall value to their team.
Some players leave teams that helped make them stars to chase a larger paycheck — only to discover that in a new style of play their talents aren’t as well utilized. Other players sign long-term deals after extended success but can’t match expectations as they get older. First baseman Chris Davis led the American League in home runs twice with the Baltimore Orioles, so the team signed him to a seven-year contract worth $161 million in 2016. Davis has performed poorly since. This year, he is batting .158 — the lowest average of any starting player.
Stephen Curry, point guard for the Golden State Warriors, is currently the highest paid American athlete. He pulls in an average of more than $40 million per year thanks to the five-year, $201 million contract he signed in 2017. Though the two-time MVP is certainly a great player, it is difficult for him to provide $40 million-worth of value to his team, especially when sharing the court with a bevy of other all-star players. The outsized deal makes him one of the more overpaid players in the NBA, though he is nowhere near the top and does not appear on this list.
In order to determine the most overpaid professional athletes, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the value of professional athletes as well as the average salary each player made.
Contract figures were based on the average salary paid to the player for the length of the contract. For each league, we used a different statistical measure to determine a player’s overall value to their team. NHL players’ value was ranked based on Point Shares. Point Shares calculates the number of goals a player helped create on offense plus the goals he prevented on defense. Goaltenders are ranked based solely on their defense. Baseball players’ value was ranked based on Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. WAR determines the number of additional wins a player helps his team achieve when compared to a replacement level player at that same position. NFL players’ value was ranked based on Approximate Value, which judges groups of seasons and attempts to assign seasons a numerical value based on quality. Typically, an average starter will have an AV of 10, and a player with an AV of 16, 17, or higher will be in contention for the MVP. NBA players were ranked based on Win Shares. Win Shares determines how many wins a given player is responsible for in a season. These statistics came from the Sports Reference family of sites.
Salary information, which came from sports information sites like Spotrac and Over the Cap, as well as other media sources, was ranked based on the average yearly pay from each player’s contract at the start of the season. NHL and NBA players’ salaries were ranked based on the 2017-2018 season. NFL salaries were ranked on the 2017 season. MLB salaries were based on the 2018 season, and MLB statistics were as of during the all-star break. Players who missed a majority of the team’s games due to injury were not considered.