There were times when you'd watch the Cleveland Browns last year and think, the punter is the team's best player today. That came to mind in a 23-7 loss to Houston, when the offense sputtered and J.J. Watt was scoring on the defense. Lanning showed precise placement in his six punts for 231 yards that day, plus he drew a penalty on Watt after the vaunted defensive end made contact with Lanning after his follow-through.
Lanning, who was an exclusive rights free agent, just signed a one-year deal worth $585,000 according to ESPN's Roster Management System. That's fine, I get it -- he's a punter, they get what they get. Lanning didn't exactly have leverage with his free-agency status.
But 23 punters make at least $1.34 million annually now. Lanning is now tied for 27th in punters' salaries, according to Spotrac.com. He outplayed that number last year.
Some of Lanning's stats aren't gaudy -- third in punts attempted (93), 22nd in yards average (44.3) and 17th in net yards (39.2).
But Lanning makes his money on return yards on punts. The Browns give up 7.0 yards per return, which is best in the league for punters with at least 90 attempts. Two punters in the league have better averages than Lanning with at least 80 punts. Cleveland has a good coverage team, but punting precision plays a large role in that success rate.
The Browns have other underpaid players -- safety Tashaun Gipson ($2.4 million) among them. But Lanning, based on his current salary and usage rate, tops the list.
The Browns could still hammer out a long-term deal with Lanning as early as this summer, I'm told. He might not be at this rate for long.