Top underrated NFC players on verge of big paydays: Cardinals’ Chase Edmonds among breakout candidates

The 2021 NFL season won’t just provide fresh opportunities for teams to win it all.

The 2021 NFL season won’t just provide fresh opportunities for teams to win it all. It’ll also provide opportunities for players to cash in on new contracts. Some players are all but locks to net big-money deals either before, during or immediately after this season (see: Lamar Jackson, Fred Warner, etc.). But what about those who might be going overlooked?

Here, we’ve identified one underrated player from each NFC team who could be on the verge of a big payday:

*Note: Current player contracts include any exercised fifth-year options.

Current contract: Four years, $2.9 million (expires 2022)

The wear and tear on Edmonds is minimal, considering he’s started just four career games and never exceeded 100 carries. So he’s primed for a breakout as Arizona’s No. 1, even with James Conner in tow as relief. Starter money should be around the corner after Edmonds eclipsed 850 yards from scrimmage as Kenyan Drake’s sidekick in 2020.

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Current contract: Four years, $2.6 million (expires 2022)

His receiving marks have jumped in each of his three NFL seasons, and at 25, he’s primed for career numbers stepping in as a full-timer with Julio Jones gone. He also did way more in 2020 (72 catches, 786 yards) than some probably realize, promising at the very least a reliable No. 2/3. Someone will pay for that at his position.

Current contract: Five years, $22.3 million (expires 2023)

Like Gage, Moore’s seen his receiving totals go up in three straight seasons. The difference? He’s a bona fide No. 1 who happens to fly below the radar after catching passes from guys like Kyle Allen and Teddy Bridgewater. He’s not the biggest or most explosive, but he produces. A future extension could net him at least $15-17 million per year.

Current contract: Five years, $28.5 million (expires 2023)

He’s not underrated in the Windy City, but nationally, he might be. This is a guy who’s not only lived up to but exceeded draft-day expectations when healthy, totaling 361 tackles and 11 sacks in 44 games. As the best short- and long-term building block of the Bears’ defense, he could potentially reset the inside linebacker market.

Current contract: Four years, $5.5 million (expires 2022)

Unlike countless other Cowboys linemen to come via the draft, Williams hasn’t built a reputation as a perennial All-Pro. But he is a solid interior starter, with some tackle flexibility, when healthy. With a steady 2021, he could price himself out of Dallas.

Current contract: Four years, $3.5 million (expires 2022)

The former third-rounder struggled in 2020, falling on the depth chart on a bad defense, but he flashed enough promise in his first two seasons that a team-up with new coordinator Aaron Glenn should enable him to rebuild his stock as a young safety with size and speed.

Current contract: Four years, $6.8 million (expires 2023)

For all the talk surrounding David Bakhtiari and the departed Corey Linsley, the Packers have another trench gem in Jenkins, who quietly emerged as a first-time Pro Bowler in 2020 during Green Bay’s vaunted offensive run. He’s still a few years from approaching the market, but on his current pace, he’s due to clear at least $12 million per year on a future extension.

Current contract: One year, $4.8 million (expires 2022)

Is he underrated or overrated by way of starting opposite Jalen Ramsey? We lean toward the former, mostly because Williams was so stingy on his own in 2020, despite entering the year as a near-afterthought. The former undrafted reserve has a chance to get yet another pay raise by entering 2021 as Ramsey’s full-time running mate.

Current contract: Four years, $5.8 million (expires 2023)

Still just 22, Smith is finally set to take over No. 1 duties with Kyle Rudolph gone, and he’s flashed enough in limited work (66 catches, 676 yards, 7 TDs in 14 starts) to warrant high expectations in 2021, when he’ll likely serve as one of Kirk Cousins’ top play-action and red-zone targets. That bodes well for either an early extension or big free-agent market.

Current contract: Four years, $3.4 million (expires 2022)

He’s failed to register 450 receiving yards in each of his three seasons, and yet the big-play potential has always been evident. With 14 career scores and a yards-per-catch average of nearly 14, he’s a deep-ball weapon waiting to emerge, and Jameis Winston likely succeeding Drew Brees could mean more downfield action.

Current contract: Four years, $3.2 million (expires 2023)

The G-Men may have paid Kenny Golladay and drafted Kadarius Toney because they don’t believe Slayton alone — or in tandem with Sterling Shepard — can headline the WR corps. But he still probably doesn’t get enough credit for his upside as a No. 2/3, having topped 700 yards and 15 yards per catch in each of his first two years.

Current contract: Four years, $5.6 million (expires 2022)

Besides occasional bouts with drops and injuries, Goedert has looked every bit as capable of shouldering No. 1 duties in Philly as longtime star Zach Ertz. In fact, at his best, he’s probably more explosive. This year, as the expected starter, he’s primed to post career marks and serve as one of Jalen Hurts’ top pass targets. A future $12.5M annual salary seems like the floor.

Current contract: Four years, $3.3 million (expires 2023)

Everyone’s aware of Fred Warner, whose production at the same position has him poised to land a big deal. But Greenlaw could be the next best thing in San Francisco, where he’s quietly racked up 178 tackles, including 10 for loss, in two years. If the 49ers can’t afford to pay him in a year or two, someone else will.

Current contract: One year, $6 million (expires 2022)

The former second-rounder never quite broke out in Los Angeles, with Tyler Higbee maintaining the top job. In Seattle, Everett brings the requisite size, skills and experience to become a favorite of Russell Wilson. If he posts career marks playing for the Seahawks (a real possibility), he’ll be due for a longer commitment next offseason.

Current contract: Four years, $4.4 million (expires 2022)

He picked a good time to have his best season, emerging as a clear-cut No. 1 cover man for 2020’s stingy Super Bowl-winning defense. The rest of Davis’ resume isn’t necessarily elite, but he doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention someone on his trajectory should. Starting corners go for a premium in today’s NFL, and he’s certainly one.

Washington Football Team: RB J.D. McKissic

Current contract: Two years, $3.25 million (expires 2022)

Raise your hand if you knew he caught 80 passes in 2020. McKissic won’t be a featured back in Washington as long as Antonio Gibson is around, but as a complementary piece/quasi-receiver, you can do a whole lot worse. The ex-Seahawks and Lions reserve might not get as many check-downs from Ryan Fitzpatrick, but someone may pay up for his Tarik Cohen impressions.