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. Some athletes deliver incredible value to their team, despite being paid relatively little.
Young players can become instant stars, yet they may not make a lot of money because they signed long-term contracts as unproven rookies. 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 find diamonds in the rough have likely set themselves up for success.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed both the salary and performance of all players from the four major U.S. sports to determine the most underpaid athletes across the four leagues throughout the most recent season and the first half of the MLB season.
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.
When young players are drafted, they typically sign a rookie contract that pays them well below their more experienced teammates. Players such as New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara have shown that even young athletes making less than $1 million annually can become highly productive players.
Underpaid players typically do not stay underpaid for very long. Athletes who are among the best at their position often receive large contract extensions from their team or seek out a new deal from a different franchise.
Brandin Cooks had an average salary of just over $2 million throughout his first four years, during which he played for the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. That proved to be a great value, as he was one of just five players to rack up 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons. The Patriots could have had Cooks for another season, but apparently did not believe they could sign him to a long-term extension, so Cooks was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Before the 2018 season, Cooks inked a five-year, $81 million extension with his new team.
Philadelphia 76ers small forward Robert Covington established himself as one of the best defenders in the NBA — a bargain at just over $1 million per year. Philadelphia decided to invest in Covington for the long term, signing him to a new contract worth $62 million over four seasons. Of the 30 players on the list whose 2017 seasons are over — those in the NBA, NFL, and NHL — 13 have received increased contracts or extensions and several others are actively negotiating new deals.