Black Friday 2021: Ranking the best bargain contracts in sports originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
With Thanksgiving in the rearview, it’s officially shopping season as the world gears up for the holidays.
Professional sports are no different -- owners and general managers are always looking for team-friendly deals to acquire high-level talent.
While most superstars earn the highest annual contracts in their respective leagues, there are plenty of established players making far below market value.
Here’s a look at some of the best bargains in sports today (not including players on rookie deals):
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Current contract: Four years, $58 million
Adams is in the final year of his contract with the Packers, and he’ll likely cash in this offseason. Over the first three years of his current deal, the 28-year-old wideout made three Pro Bowls and led the NFL receiving touchdowns in 2020. He’s become Aaron Rodgers’ most trusted weapon, and he has garnered respect nationally as one of the league’s best receivers.
Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves
Current contract: Eight years, $100 million (two option for final two years)
I know Acuña was just 21 years old when he signed this deal, but it’s looking more team-friendly by the day. Not only did Atlanta lock up a young star for a $12.5 million average annual value (AAV), it even secured two team options on the back end. The Braves won the World Series in 2021 despite Acuña suffering a torn ACL early in the year. Acuña won’t be a free agent until after the 2028 season if the Braves exercise his options.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Current contract: Four years, $103 million (plus incentives)
Many questioned the deal as being an overpay when Brown signed it in 2019. In actuality, it’s proven to be a massive underpay. The 25-year-old Brown made his first All-Star appearance in 2021, which was the first year of the deal. He’s emerged as a strong leader on and off the court for the Boston Celtics, especially in wake of the social justice movement. Brown is the type of player and person you want on your side, and he won’t be a free agent until 2024.
Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Current contract: Eight years, $97.6 million
The Dallas Cowboys made a massive commitment to Smith when they signed him in 2014. At just over $12 million per year, he became the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman at the time. But by signing him for eight years, the Cowboys locked him up at a more-than-fair AAV. Smith, 30, made seven straight Pro Bowls from 2013 to 2019 and he’s still a crucial piece on the line. His deal doesn’t expire until after the 2023 season.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
Current contract: Four years, $78 million
Similar to Brown’s deal with the Celtics, the Chicago Bulls took a chance and banked on LaVine’s potential when they signed him in 2018. But the former Slam Dunk champion proved he was more than just a high-flyer, averaging over 25 points per game in the first three years of his deal. Now in the final year of his deal, the Bulls are finally starting to win some games. LaVine, who made his first All-Star appearance in 2021, won’t be a bargain for much longer.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
Current contract: 12 years, $207 million (team option for final year)
The Rays made an unprecedented commitment to Franco this offseason, buying out two years of contract renewal and three years of arbitration. Still, this feels like it will turn out to be a steal for Tampa Bay. Franco will make just over $16.5 million AAV in the first 11 years of the deal before a $25 million team option… in 2033. That’s right, Franco is locked in until the mid-2030s. As a 20-year-old rookie in 2021, Franco hit .288 in the regular season and .368 in four postseason games.
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders
Current contract: Four years, $29.8 million
After struggling with substance abuse, Waller signed with the Raiders in 2018. The former Baltimore Ravens tight end quickly fit in, amassing 1,145 receiving yards in 2019 before signing his current contract. Waller was even better in 2020, with career-highs in catches (107), receiving yards (1,196) and touchdowns (nine). He is only in the midst of his second year under contract, so he won’t hit free agency until after the 2023 season.
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
Current contract: Seven years, $35 million (two option for final two years)
The Braves made another shrewd move in 2019 when they signed Albies to a long-term deal. Coming off an All-Star season in 2018, Albies committed to the Braves and even gave them two years of team options (similar to Acuña). He’s won two Silver Sluggers in the past three years and was a key part of the Braves’ World Series run this season, hitting a career-high 30 home runs. Albies, 24, won’t be a free agent until 2027 if his options are picked up.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Current contract: Four years, $74.9 million
The Pacers wisely signed Sabonis to his current deal the day before the 2019 season. After earning the contract, Sabonis has made consecutive All-Star appearances. He’s making a $18.725 million AAV, well below market value when players like Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Love and Aaron Gordon make more while playing the same position. The Lithuanian-American big man is still in the second season of the extension, and won’t reach free agency until 2024.
All contract figures in this story are courtesy of Spotrac.