Paycheck double-check

Slaps, shams and salaries with Seattle corner Richard Sherman, the NFL's top bargain

Mag: Last season you made $511,000. But according to our numbers, your play was worth $19.8 million to the Seahawks. That makes you the most underpaid player in the NFL. How's that feel?
Sherman: Aw, man, that's cool, but I just need to keep playing like a beast. That's a lot of money, though. It'd be more exciting if it was real, but the money will come.

Mag: If you actually made $19.8 million, what would you spend it on?
Sherman: I'd give a nice chunk to my high school and the city of Compton to improve the academic experience there. I keep hearing how great Tahiti is, so I'd take my mom and dad, my aunt, my cousin and my brother there. No wife yet. Waiting on my $19.8 million deal for that.

Mag: Why did you last until the fifth round of the 2011 draft?
Sherman: Because the draft is a sham. How many guys do you see go in the first round who don't amount to much? They did well in college, but everybody does well in college, or else you wouldn't have the chance to go to the NFL. Playing corner in college for only a year and a half or two years had something to do with it. I should've gone higher.

Mag: What are the odds that you report to camp on time this year?
Sherman: One hundred percent. Under the CBA, we can't negotiate anyway. So it'd be kind of stupid if I didn't report.

Mag: After the Redskins-Seahawks playoff game, what exactly did you say to Trent Williams that made him slap you?
Sherman: I didn't say anything. During the game, we had a little conversation going, but I hadn't talked to him since like the first or second quarter. He started going back and forth with my teammate Chris Clemons, and I said, "Go back to your huddle." When the game ended, I went to Kedric Golston, who'd been quoted calling me a cheater, and said, "It's all good, great game, have a great offseason." Then Williams comes up to me and goes, "I'm gonna punch you in the face." And he hit me.

Mag: What's your best trash-talk?
Sherman: I like to tell people they have hands like feet when they drop an easy pass. And after a guy drops a pass, that's the best time to put a little bug in his head.

Mag: Who or what can shut you up?
Sherman: My mom. She'll just tell me, "Boy, you better shut your damn mouth," and I do. If my mom was playing wide receiver, she'd be able to shut me up.

Mag: You were suspended four games for violating the league's PED policy but won your appeal on the grounds that the NFL breached protocol by using a second collection cup after the first had a leak. But the question remains: Did you take Adderall?
Sherman: Nope. Didn't take it at all. The question only remains for people who want the question to remain.

Mag: Seattle has had five players suspended for PED violations since 2011. Do the Seahawks have a PED problem?
Sherman: It does seem that way. It is what it is. -- Eddie Matz

Fine print ...

To pinpoint the most overpaid and underpaid in sports, we started with each player's Actual Salary.* Then Neil Paine of Sports-Reference calculated a Fair Salary for each -- what he should have been paid based on his performance from the most recently completed season. (To do so, Paine used a formula incorporating Goals Versus Threshold for the NHL, Win Shares Above Replacement for the NBA, WAR for MLB and Approximate Value Above Replacement for the NFL.) He then determined each player's Surplus Value by subtracting his Actual Salary from his Fair Salary.

Example: Richard Sherman, the NFL's most underpaid player, had a cap hit of $511K in 2012, but based on performance, he should have been paid $19.8M, giving him a Surplus Value of $19.3M.

To compare teams across sports, we then calculated a Surplus Value Per Player by dividing each team's cumulative Surplus Value by the number of players allowed on its game-day roster.

Example: The Thunder's roster had a cumulative surplus value of $44.9M, which, when divided by the 12 active roster slots, computes to $3.7M Surplus Value Per Player, the best in sports.

* Base salaries for MLB and NBA players, cap hits for NFL and NHL players.

NFL: best and worst

Dwight Freeney needed to be an All-Pro to earn his NFL-high $19 million cap hit in 2012. Instead, he turned in a year worthy of a $2.9 million salary -- only slightly better than Jake Locker. Yes, that Jake Locker.

Gorgeous George

The Pacers' recent playoff run showed the nation what Indiana fans already knew: Paul George is one of the game's best two-way players. According to Paine, George was worth $14.1M this season on a rookie-scale salary of $2.6 million -- good for the NBA's sixth-highest SV. "He's a playmaker on either end of the court," says one NBA exec. "He's like Scottie Pippen." Indeed, with George on the floor, the Pacers posted a championship-caliber net rating of plus-7. When he was on the bench, it dropped to minus-1.7. The only bad news for Indiana: George won't come so cheap after next year, when he'll be eligible for free agency and likely receive the NBA max. -- Jordan Brenner

It's not personal

In precisely four years, Bill Belichick will cut Tom Brady loose. How do we know? Because according to our projections, the QB's SV will turn negative during the 2016 season.

Spending spryly

With NBA free agency approaching, we did GMs a solid by getting the statheads at Basketball-Reference to project remaining Fair Salaries (how much a player will be worth) for 10 free agents. Mario Chalmers more valuable than Dwight Howard? You can thank us later, Lakers.

The $222 million sucking sound

He's the poster boy for contracts that no player, save for a steroidal Roy Hobbs, could ever live up to. To gauge the depths of Alex Rodriguez's disappointing-ness, we plotted his career -- and projected -- SV. Spoiler alert! It's very not good.

The NFL's great rebalancing act

Before the 2011 CBA shrank rookie wages, newbies like Sam Bradford were gettin' paid -- too much: Cap hits of NFL top-10 picks from 2008 to 2010 exceeded actual value by $4.2 million per player in 2012. But the post-CBA top-10 picks outperformed cap hits by $1.7 million each. Below, a chart to make NFL owners weep happy little tears of gold. -- Scott T. Miller

MLB: Best and worst

We all know Mike Trout is a bargain, with MVP-caliber stats for "look what I found in the dollar bin" prices. But even more remarkable than his surplus being 48 percent higher than league No. 2 Buster Posey's? Trout's Fair Salary -- what he was worth -- was almost $9 million more than that of actual 2012 MVP Miguel Cabrera. Take that, Triple Crown.

Spelling "OKC" with very few K's

It's little surprise that the small-market Thunder have five of the NBA's top 50 players in SV. Efficiency, on the floor and on the balance sheet, colors their every decision. What might surprise some are the names of two of those players: Thabo Sefolosha, master of lockdown D; and Nick Collison, practitioner of spine-crunching screens. "GM Sam Presti finds value by finding perfect players for the roles you want in place," says one Eastern Conference exec. "When you're in the right place, it's easier to produce." -- Jordan Brenner

Kevin Durant
League rank: 3rd
Surplus value: $14.9M

Serge Ibaka
League rank: 5th
Surplus value: $13M

Thabo Sefolosha
League rank: 23rd
Surplus value: $7.4M

Nick Collison
League rank: 34th
Surplus value: $6.1M

Russell Westbrook
League rank: 48th
Surplus value: $5.2M

All mapped out

Which major sports city houses the shrewdest GMs? 
To scratch that sabermetric itch, we tallied Surplus Value Per Player per team of the 13 U.S. cities with four or more pro squads. DC, ironically, is getting top bang for its budget. Philly is bleeding cash like Rocky Balboa.

Top bottom-feeders

The Moneyball OBP edge dried up in the early aughts. Maximizing defensive value is so 2010. So where can today's MLB exec find untapped value? No further than his bench -- the end of his bench -- according to A's director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. "It's managing the roster from the bottom," Zaidi said at the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. "Whether it's a backup catcher or the ninth or 10th bullpen arm, optimizing those positions, for us, is an important part of building a competitive team." To find which teams are mimicking the A's, we crunched the WAR for every team's bench (roster spots 20 to 25) over the past five seasons. Not surprisingly, those plucky Reds, driven by starting-caliber backup catcher Ryan Hanigan and a solid pen, amassed the highest total WAR (27). The woeful Mariners had a dreadful minus-8.9 bench WAR. Or consider the Yankees, sixth in bench WAR (5.3) last season. Without that back-line production, the 2012 AL East title goes to the O's. Heavens to Boog! -- Dan Szymborski

NBA: Best and worst

We've all heard the estimates -- that LeBron James is worth $100 million per year to a franchise once you account for his marketing heft. Maybe more. But what about his on-court value alone? This season he accumulated a higher Surplus Value than the rest of the Heat ... combined. Talk about the Big One.

NHL: Best and worst

Sergei Bobrovsky's $1.75 million cap hit ranked 365th in the NHL, but based on his 30.4 Goals Versus Threshold, the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender deserved to be the NHL's highest-paid player ($12.25 million). He'll be a restricted free agent after this season. That sound you hear is Bobrovsky's agent pining for a new deal.

Check cashers

Maybe it's not fair to single out the highest-paid player in each league, like the NHL's Alex Ovechkin, just 'cause they earned the most money. But hey, these guys have pocketed a combined $736 million over the collective 56 years of their careers. So, you know, cry us a river.

Smart money

We ranked each team by SV per player. Why? Because we can, that's why. Takeaway: The NHL's hard cap helps its GMs avoid massively overpaying (or underpaying) players. The other three leagues, not so much.

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