The Top 10 Marginal Value NFL Players

The other day I looked at the amount of value that teams believe they have at the top of their roster based on the size of the player contract. You can read it in full if you would like, but the gist of it is that we can define marginal value/cost as the price a team plays above average for a player at the position. That added price indicates the benefit that a team expects to receive from that player to justify the large investment. So in Part II we rank the players with the most perceived value in the NFL.

1. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Dolphins ($19M APY, $13.4M MV)

Suh landed the largest contract ever given to a non-quarterback this offseason and it comes as no surprise to see him rank this high. The average top paid defensive tackle earns just $5.65M so the Dolphins expect him to be about 3.4x more productive than the average top 32 player at the position.  His $13.4M in marginal cost is $3.45 million more than the next closest player and $5.4 million more than the next closest defensive tackle. He can probably never justify the contract so the Dolphins will need to hope he far exceeds the cap value they assign in certain years.

2. Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker, Chiefs ($16.8M APY, $9.96M MV)

The Chiefs salary cap issues paved the way for this monster contract that made Houston the highest paid linebacker in the history of the NFL. He earns over $3 million more a year than the next closest outside linebacker. Houston had a great 2014 season getting after the passer and he’ll need to keep that production level up to live up to this price tag.

3. Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Vikings ($14.4M APY, $9.95M MV)

Peterson’s number is actually a touch lower than this since his APY was slightly lowered since I collected the data, but the fact remains that he is paid a huge figure for what has become one of the lowest cost positions in the NFL. Peterson is the probably the only top 10 valued player to be in danger of not being on the team next year.

4. Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Packers ($22M APY, $9.84M MV)

The NFL’s MVP and top earner ranks fourth due to the high cost of the position. If it wasn’t that teams are so split between rookies and veteran starters his marginal cost would actually be even lower. The only thing that would derail him being worth the salary is injury.

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Steelers ($21.9M APY, $9.68M MV)

Big Ben received his massive extension last year and then went out and had the best season of his career. Even if Roethlisberger’s numbers decline back to his usual levels, there may not be a player in the NFL more important to his team than Roethlisberger. His style of play covers a lot of negatives that may exist with the Steelers. (Note this was written before the Wilson extension. He would rank 5)

6. Chris Long, Defensive End, Rams ($12M APY, $9.45M MV)

Long fits an interesting category because he is the second highest paid defensive end on his team. Because of that his baseline salary is not the top 32 in the position but the 33-64 tier. The average cost of the second end on a team is just $2.6M. Due to that quality of player being so low, Long has a good chance to justify the cost, if healthy, despite the large price differential.

7. Cam Newton, Quarterback, Panthers ($20.76M APY, $8.6M MV)

If we compared actual value to marginal value, its possible that Newton would rank lowest among this group, but his contract is largely driven by fear of the unknown and the investment the team has already made in him. Likely a contract that will need to look cheaper due to market price increases in a few years to justify the marginal cost.

8. Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Falcons ($20.75M APY, $8.59M MV)

Ryan is a bit of a polarizing QB because the statistics are very good and he plays well, but there is a growing feeling that he isn’t an elite tier player that teams will win because of. The Falcons certainly believe in him based on his contract.

9. JJ Watt, Defensive End, Texans ($16.6M APY, $8.5M MV)

If we split defenses up into 34 and 43 bases, Watt would carry a higher marginal value, but based on some of the names in front of him I think it is clear the Texans got a reasonable value from Watt and one that he can actually meet.

10. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Lions ($16.2M APY, $8.3M MV)

This monster contract signed by Johnson indicated that the Lions viewed him, rather than QB Matt Stafford, as the true difference maker on offense. If healthy Johnson can come close to justifying the cost, but another injury plagued year and it will be difficult to justify the marginal costs.

A Few Notes:

The Packers have four players that rank in the top 25. Along with Rodgers the Packers expect big value from Jordy Nelson, Julius Peppers, and Clay Matthews. They are the only team with more than two player in the top 25.

25 teams have at least one player rank in the top 50. Those that don’t are the Jaguars, Titans, Giants, Patriots, Eagles, Chargers, and Colts.

Phillip Rivers ranks just 100th among the list of players due to the length of his contract. If anyone wonders why Wilson was happy with a four year deal, Rivers would be an example as to why. Rivers is the first Charger to show how limited their roster is compared to the past.

With the release of Gosder Cherilus the Colts have the lowest ranking for their top marginal value. Robert Mathis is their guy and is 111th overall. When people say that Andrew Luck has limited help looking at the roster this way clearly shows why.