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Highest-paid players in the NFL

  • Highest-paid players in the NFL

    Despite its position as America’s most popular professional sport and biggest cash generator of the four major sports, National Football League contracts are often smoke and mirrors with little of the deal guaranteed. The brutal nature of football, among other things, is why NFL contracts are less rich than those given in Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association. Teams are risk-averse, understanding that the shelf life for their athletes is significantly less than that of other sports.

    The hard salary cap in the NFL also factors into money spent. Despite significant increases in the league’s salary cap each of the last six seasons, each team can spend no more than a certain amount each year on player contracts for its 53-man roster. In 2019, that number is $188.2 million. The MLB has zero salary cap, so a team like the Boston Red Sox can enter 2019 with a payroll of nearly $225 million for a roster of 40 players. The NBA has a soft cap, meaning a team can spend over the cap to retain a player and pay a luxury tax.

    All that said, there is still plenty of money to go around in the NFL, and the more valuable the player, the more money a team is willing to shell out in guaranteed dollars. It should come as no surprise that the majority of those massive contracts belong to players at the sport’s most important role: quarterback. Of the largest annual player salaries, the top 11—and 17 of the top 20—are quarterbacks. Additionally, QB is the only position on offense to crack the top 20, further displaying the perceived worth of the signal-caller. Stacker compiled a list of the highest-paid players in the NFL, ranked by annual salary, using data from Spotrac.

    Read on to see the lucrative contracts doled out to the NFL’s most prominent and decorated players.

    You may also like: Highest-paid players in the NBA

  • #20. Philip Rivers

    - Team: Los Angeles Chargers
    - Position: QB
    - Average salary: $20,812,500

    Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers inked a four-year, $83.25 million contract ($37.5 million initially guaranteed at signing) back in 2015, which lands him on this top 20 list. Rivers, who was drafted by the New York Giants and subsequently traded to the Chargers (then in San Diego) in 2004, has earned more than $200 million over the course of three different contracts throughout his playing career. Despite no Super Bowl titles or MVP accolades, Rivers has been a picture of consistency for the Bolts. Since becoming QB1 in 2006, Rivers has started every regular-season game, earning his way to the Pro Bowl eight times and leading L.A. to the playoffs six times.

  • #18. Eli Manning (tied)

    - Team: New York Giants
    - Position: QB
    - Average salary: $21,000,000

    Eli Manning—who was traded for #20 on our list, Philip Rivers, back in 2004—also signed a four-year extension in 2015. His contract: an ever-so-slightly richer $84 million with $67 million guaranteed. Manning, who has led the New York Giants to Super Bowl titles on two separate occasions, is set to earn a base salary of $11.5 million, along with a $5 million roster bonus and a $500,000 workout bonus in 2019. While his best years are likely behind him, the Giants elected to retain the 38-year-old veteran in lieu of starting rookie Daniel Jones out of the gate.

  • #18. DeMarcus Lawrence (tied)

    - Team: Dallas Cowboys
    - Position: DE
    - Average salary: $21,000,000

    The first of only three non-quarterbacks to grace this list of highest-paid players, Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence signed a five-year, $105 million deal lasting through 2023. The team can cut ties after three years and $65 million of the contract is paid out, but that guaranteed money is the most ever for a non-QB. Lawrence has been a standout on the Dallas defense, being selected for each of the last two Pro Bowls.

  • #17. Nick Foles

    - Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
    - Position: QB
    - Average salary: $22,000,000

    A backup no more: Nick Foles signed a four-year, $88 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past offseason. Taking over for an injured Carson Wentz late in the 2017 season, Foles led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl victory while capturing game MVP honors. While his body of work is a somewhat limited sample size, Foles has been a solid performer. Last season in the five games he started with the Eagles, Foles averaged a career high in both completion percentage (72.3) and yards per game (286.2).

  • #16. Joe Flacco

    - Team: Denver Broncos
    - Position: QB
    - Average salary: $22,133,333

    While Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco’s salary might look lofty at first glance, especially considering his declining play over the past few seasons, the team can move on at any time without major consequence. The Broncos agreed to acquire Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens this past offseason, and although there are three years remaining on his deal, no portion of the contract is guaranteed after 2019.

  • #15. Aaron Donald

    - Team: Los Angeles Rams
    - Position: DT
    - Average salary: $22,500,000

    It’s fitting that the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year finds his way onto the highest-paid players list. Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams is an absolute force to be reckoned with, amassing a league-leading 20.5 sacks, 41 QB hits, 25 tackles for loss, and 73 QB pressures in 2018. The six-year, $135 million contract extension last year made Donald the highest-paid defensive player in the league at the time and is currently the second-richest deal for a defender.

  • #14. Tom Brady

    - Team: New England Patriots
    - Position: QB
    - Average salary: $23,000,000

    Many might assume to find Tom Brady, six-time Super Bowl champion and three-time league MVP, a bit higher on this list, but Brady has restructured his contract a few times to save the team cap space. When your significant other makes as much as Gisele Bundchen does, taking a pay cut doesn’t hurt as much. He most recently agreed to a contract extension which will earn him $23 million for the 2019 season. Brady is currently 42 years old and continues to defy what fans thought was possible this late into a quarterback’s career.

  • #12. Alex Smith (tied)

    - Team: Washington Redskins
    - Position: QB
    - Average salary: $23,500,000

    The injury suffered by Washington Redskins QB Alex Smith is an example of why NFL teams are reluctant to guarantee money. Late in the 2018 season, Smith suffered a broken fibula and tibia, and later suffered an infection as a result of the injury. While the 35 year old’s playing career is in jeopardy, his base salary of $31 million over the next two years is not. It’s not the $94 million he initially signed for, but it’s something given how conservative NFL contracts can be. It’s still unclear whether he’ll return in 2019.

  • #12. Khalil Mack (tied)

    - Team: Chicago Bears
    - Position: OLB
    - Average salary: $23,500,000

    Just days after Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald inked the richest contract ever for a defensive player, the Chicago Bears were not to be outdone. Promptly after trading for Khalil Mack, they gave the former Oakland Raiders pass-rusher a six-year, $141 million contract. The three-time First-Team All-Pro linebacker will earn $151 million over seven years if he plays out his entire contract.

  • #11. Andrew Luck

    - Team: Indianapolis Colts
    - Position: QB
    - Average salary: $24,594,000

    Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck signed a deal worth nearly $123 million back in 2016. Luck missed all of the 2017 season with a peculiar shoulder injury but made a resilient return in 2018, posting an impressive 39 touchdowns compared to just 15 interceptions and a career-high passer rating of 98.7. Injuries loom again for Luck, who has yet to see preseason action battling a “small little bone” issue as well as a calf strain.

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