We've all heard the expression that something is worth more than its weight in gold. Most of the time we mean it in a figurative sense, that something or someone is extremely valuable and not easily replaced.
That can certainly apply to football players — we've all seen what a difference a superstar or two can make for a franchise's fortunes — but the funny thing is that given the nature of football economics, it's often true in a literal sense too.
If you were to take a typical NFL player, figure out how much they weigh and purchase that many pounds of gold, you'll find that the cost falls right in line with what many NFL veterans actually earn in a given year. If you wanted to do a wide receiver or a defensive back, it would probably set you back about $5 million. If you wanted to do an offensive lineman, it might cost you closer to $10 million.
As of this writing, the price of gold was $1,710.40 per ounce, or $27,366.40 per pound. Based on player weights currently listed on the Patriots roster, as well as the latest salary information available on Spotrac.com, there are six Patriots players slated to be paid more than the value of their weight in gold this coming season.
Who might those be? Let's take a look.
2020 Salary: $14,781,000
Value in Gold: $8,428,851
This might come as a bit of a surprise, but by signing his one-year franchise tender of $14.7 million, left guard Joe Thuney is set to become the highest paid member of the Patriots in 2020. In doing so, he's also officially become a member of the "gold statue club," with his annual earnings surpassing the amount needed to buy himself a life-sized gold statue despite the imposing price tag associated with his 308-pound frame.
Is Thuney really worth his weight in gold? Well, since being drafted in the third round (No. 78 overall) in 2016, Thuney has started every game of his career while helping the Patriots capture two Super Bowl titles. He's been consistent, reliable and by all measures among the top interior linemen in football throughout his career. Needless to say, his big payday was due.
Whether Thuney actually plays this season on a $14.7 million salary is still up in the air. There has been speculation that Thuney could be traded or he could sign a long-term deal that might pay him more money overall but on a slightly reduced annual rate. But no matter what happens, Thuney is going to be among the highest paid offensive guards in football this year, and he's proven himself more than worth the money.
2020 Salary: $14,000,000
Value in Gold: $5,336,448
If Thuney was a surprise, then this should be a no brainer. Devin McCourty has been right at the heart of New England's success over the past decade and his value to the defense is incalculable. McCourty has been a key part of three Super Bowl championships and remains one of the most productive safeties in football despite being a couple months from his 33rd birthday.
McCourty has been a gold statue member longer than anyone else on this list. Since signing his first big contract in 2015 — a five-year, $47.5 million deal — McCourty has been worth significantly more than his weight in gold, in some years even more than double. Now, after signing his new two-year, $23 million extension, McCourty will be paid $14 million in 2020 to return to the Patriots.
How much is that? Well, if he wanted McCourty could buy himself a life-sized gold statue, then another one of his twin brother Jason, and still have a couple million dollars left to spare.
2020 Salary: $11,000,000
Value in Gold: $5,528,013
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year? The consensus top cornerback in football? Stephon Gilmore has been worth his weight in gold and then some.
Since his arrival in New England in 2017, Gilmore has twice won First Team All-Pro honors and helped lead the Patriots to two Super Bowl appearances, including a game-saving pass break-up against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2017 AFC Championship Game and the game-clinching interception late in Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams.
Given all that, it's easy to forget that Gilmore's signing was initially unpopular with fans who were irritated that Bill Belichick went out and gave an outsider a huge five-year, $65 million deal instead of paying Malcolm Butler. Regardless of how you feel about Butler, his talents and the way he was treated, Gilmore has obviously proven himself a sound investment.
2020 Salary: $9,945,305
Value in Gold: $7,115,264
Like Devin McCourty and Stephon Gilmore, it's hard to quantify how much Dont'a Hightower has meant to the New England Patriots' defense.
Hightower's game-saving tackle of Marshawn Lynch late in Super Bowl XLIX, which immediately preceded the Malcolm Butler interception, is one of the most underrated and important defensive plays in NFL history. Hightower also had a crucial strip sack of Matt Ryan in the 28-3 comeback in Super Bowl LI and was dominant in Super Bowl LIII against the Rams.
Now entering his age-30 season, Hightower is coming off a Pro Bowl year in which he had 71 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He is also set to enter the final year of his four-year, $35 million contract, so there's no reason to expect Hightower won't remain one of the defense's top players this fall.
2020 Salary: $7,000,000
Value in Gold: $5,418,547
Julian Edelman has been criminally underpaid throughout his career, but thanks to the new two-year, $15.5 million extension he signed last year, he's finally a member of the gold statue club.
More than that, Edelman is now arguably the face of the franchise with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski now suiting up for Tampa Bay.
The three-time Super Bowl champion is the most prominent offensive player the Patriots have left. Edelman is coming off his best season as a pro, making 100 catches for 1,117 yards and six touchdowns, and he's shown no signs of slowing down despite having just turned 34 yesterday.
As a three-time Super Bowl champion with a playoff resume second only to Jerry Rice among receivers, the former seventh-round pick could potentially earn Hall of Fame consideration when all is said and done. Edelman would probably rather have that bronze bust, but at least he can afford a gold statue in the meantime.
2020 Salary: $6,500,000
Value in Gold: $5,746,944
Fans may take umbrage with this one, but it's true. Financially, Mohamed Sanu is worth more than his weight in gold.
In terms of football production, it's still a bit too early to tell.
Sanu was acquired midway through last season in exchange for a second-round pick and was largely disappointing. Hampered by an injury, Sanu played eight games with New England and had only one with more than three catches. Prior to that, however, Sanu had been one of the most consistent receivers in football, regularly topping 50 catches and 650 yards throughout his career dating back to 2012.
If Sanu can get back to being that player this fall, becoming the impact receiver he was meant to be last year, then he'll truly be the gold statue player New England fans hope he can be.
And if not? Well, at least his bank account will still be happy.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.