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Thursday, October 17, 2019

10 biggest bargains of Super Bowl LII

James Harrison

The best players in sports don’t always have the highest salaries, and the Super Bowl is no different. For every Fletcher Cox, Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore making the big bucks, there are guys who made about $10 million less per year and still make a huge impact. For some of those players, big paydays will be coming this offseason. For others, being a bargain is part of what makes them so great.

Here are the 10 players from Super Bowl LII who are the biggest bargains for their team. All salary figures come courtesy of Spotrac.com.

10. Trey Flowers, DE, Patriots

Base salary: $615,000
Cap hit: $754,733

On a team that struggles to get to the quarterback, Flowers has emerged as the best pass-rusher. A fourth-round pick in 2015, Flowers sat out his entire rookie season with an injury but has consistently produced since. He had 6.5 sacks in the regular season this year after piling up seven a year ago, and he added two forced fumbles and 45 total tackles in 2017. He also helped stuff the run late in a comeback win over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. If New England wants to make Nick Foles uncomfortable early on Sunday, Flowers may be the guy they look to.

9. Ronald Darby, CB, Eagles

Base salary: $800,426
Cap hit: $800,426

Darby came over in a trade from the Buffalo Bills during the offseason, and he was injured early on. He returned for the second half of the season and has helped the Eagles dominate defensively down the stretch and into the postseason. In addition to snagging three interceptions in just eight regular season games, Darby has also been a good tackler in the secondary and has four passes defensed in two playoff games. Life will get tougher against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, but Darby is an asset for Philly.

8. Matthew Slater, WR, Patriots

Base salary: $900,000
Cap hit: $1.64 million

Slater only plays on special teams, but he is one of the best special teams players in NFL history. He is consistently the first man to the ball in kick coverage, which is one of the reasons he has been voted to the Pro Bowl the past seven seasons and been named an All-Pro four times. While Bill Belichick has made it clear that Slater is one of the most important people on the field for the Patriots, his role is just as big off of it. Who gets the team huddled together in the locker room after big games? It’s not Tom Brady — it’s Slater. A lot of what Slater does for New England is immeasurable, but there’s more than enough that can be measured, too.

7. Chris Long, DE, Eagles

Base salary: $1 million
Cap hit: $1.85 million

Long has a knack for making his biggest plays at the biggest moments, and no team is more familiar with that than the Patriots. It’s no coincidence that he is playing in back-to-back Super Bowls for two different teams, as the 32-year-old is always a threat to come up with a big sack and has a nose for the ball. Long, who posted a career-best four forced fumbles this year, doesn’t make nearly the impact that guys like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham make, but he’s making about $8 million less this season than each of those players (and donating the money to charity). Don’t be surprised if Long makes a big play or two in his second consecutive championship game.

6. Nelson Agholor, WR, Eagles

Base salary: $1.29 million
Cap hit: $2.56 million

Agholor, the No. 20 overall pick by the Eagles in 2015, was basically left for dead after he looked completely lost in his first two NFL seasons. He caught just 59 passes and scored three touchdowns between 2015 and 2016, but the former USC star has made a much bigger impact this season. Agholor racked up 62 catches for 768 yards, and he’s tied for second on the team with eight touchdown receptions. The majority of that production came with Carson Wentz under center, but Agholor has made some big plays in the postseason and is a great option in the passing game behind Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz. He could be involved heavily on Sunday if the Patriots focus on taking away Philly’s other weapons.

5. James White, RB, Patriots

Base salary: $690,000
Cap hit: $1.79 million

White’s usage is matchup-based and pretty sparing, but we all remember what happened in the Super Bowl a year ago. The shifty running back set a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions and scored three touchdowns, one of which capped off New England’s incredible comeback win in overtime. He could have easily been named the game’s MVP instead of Tom Brady. If teams try to blitz and/or manage to shut the Patriots down in the secondary, White can quickly become a matchup nightmare. Brady has full trust in him, and it shows in big moments. It would be a mistake for the Eagles to forget about the impact the man they call “Sweet Feet” is capable of making.

4. Brandin Cooks, WR, Patriots

Base salary: $781,599
Cap hit: $1.56 million

There have been times when Cooks and Brady can’t seem to get on the same page, but the former Saints receiver’s performance in the AFC Championship Game was one of his best of the season. Despite a horrible drop early in the game, Cooks consistently fought for 50-50 balls and came up with big plays when the Patriots desperately needed to keep drives alive. While he may not be an ideal fit for New England’s system, Cooks is viewed as one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL. Even in a “down” year, he racked up more than 1,000 receiving yards and scored seven touchdowns. He and Brady could be clicking at the perfect time.

3. Nick Foles, QB, Eagles

Base salary: $1 million
Cap hit: $1.6 million

Most people thought the Eagles were doomed when Carson Wentz tore his ACL, yet here they are. Foles shook off a rough performance against the Falcons in the divisional round to post huge numbers in a blowout win over the Vikings — who have one of the NFL’s best defenses — in the NFC Championship Game. There are very few teams with a backup quarterback capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl. In fact, Brady was the last QB to start in the big game that began the season as a backup. We can’t expect Foles to throw for 352 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, but he should be entering the game with plenty of confidence. The Eagles prioritized signing a quality backup last offseason, and it paid off.

2. Jay Ajayi, RB, Eagles

Base salary: $325,588
Cap hit: $325,588

Ajayi has mixed in some dud games with some epic performances since he burst onto the scene with the Dolphins last year, but he has carved out an important role for himself in Philly. He and LeGarrette Blount have complemented each other nicely down the stretch, and Ajayi’s role in the passing game has been important in the postseason. After he caught three or more passes in just three games during the regular season, Ajayi had three catches for 44 yards in the divisional round against the Falcons and another three receptions in a blowout win over the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. He’s capable of ripping off a huge play anytime he touches the ball, though he has also had some issues with fumbles. Expect the Patriots to be prepared to see a lot of Ajayi as Philly tries to keep Brady off the field.

1. James Harrison, LB, Steelers

Base salary: $58,824
Cap hit: $58,824

The Patriots basically got Harrison for free after he forced his way out of Pittsburgh, and the 39-year-old is playing with a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t credited with a sack in either of New England’s postseason wins, but Harrison was responsible for collapsing the pocket on a number of plays. He was also instrumental in helping to shut down Jacksonville late in the AFC Championship Game, putting Brady in position to pull off yet another comeback. Harrison may not be as fast or explosive as he was in his prime with the Steelers, but effort will never be an issue with him. He could not have fallen into Bill Belichick’s lap at a better time.

Bonus bargain: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots

Base salary: $1 million
Cap hit: $14 million

Brady’s contract situation involves a lot of signing bonuses and roster bonuses, which helps the Patriots keep his salary cap number down so they can continue to field a well-rounded team. Still, the fact that his average salary is “only” around $20 million is astonishing, as Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, still the best QB in the NFL and will probably be named the league’s MVP. Whatever the Pats pay him, it could never be enough.



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