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Largest NFL contracts in history

  • Largest NFL contracts in history

    The NFL offseason has given sports fans some much-needed excitement over the past few months. Still, none of the deals handed out set a new record for the largest contract in NFL history. Overall, NFL contract values have skyrocketed in recent years, with many players surpassing the $100 million mark. It’s not just quarterbacks, either, who are being paid the big bucks. Defensive anchors, pass-rushers, and dynamic wide receivers rake in money, too. Words to the wise: If you’re looking for big money, it helps to negotiate with the Dallas Cowboys.

    Stacker compiled a list of the largest NFL contracts in history using active contracts from Spotrac and historical contracts from a variety of news sources. The contracts are ranked by the highest total contract value through 2020.

    Some of the deals were handed out more than a decade ago to names who have long retired or moved into the broadcast booth. One common trend you will see throughout is that of a player who is bequeathed with a big contract but rarely finishes out that deal with the same team. In the NFL, contracts are not guaranteed, so teams have often employed a strategy of loading contracts with large overall numbers, knowing they could cut ties toward the end of a deal. Recently, players have become less willing to budge over guaranteed money and are calling for large chunks of contracts to have guaranteed money paid upfront.

    Occasionally, superstar players like Tom Brady will take smaller contracts for the benefit of a team trying to get under a salary cap. While the current leader on this list has held the top spot for two years, expect that number to be broken in the coming years. Young superstars like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson are due big paydays and will make some of the current list of 50 largest NFL contracts in history seem like small potatoes. Click through to find out the math behind the biggest spending sprees in football.

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  • #49 (tie). C.J. Mosley

    - Contract value: $85 million (5 years)
    - Average salary: $17 million

    The New York Jets had tons of salary cap room to spend entering the 2019 offseason. Needing a defensive general, the Jets paid big money to nab C.J. Mosley of the Baltimore Ravens. Since his 2014 rookie year, Mosley made four Pro Bowls in Baltimore but was largely hampered by injuries during his first year in New York.

  • #49 (tie). Olivier Vernon

    - Contract value: $85 million (5 years)
    - Average salary: $17 million

    Seeking to upgrade their defensive line in 2016, the New York Giants paid out over $50 million in guarantees to free agent Olivier Vernon. Injuries derailed Vernon’s time in New York, and he was traded to the Cleveland Browns before the 2019 season, as the Giants sought to save salary.

  • #47 (tie). Dee Ford

    - Contract value: $85.5 million (5 years)
    - Average salary: $17.1 million

    Dee Ford collected 13 sacks in 2018 and wanted to get paid. The Kansas City Chiefs were unable to reach a contract extension with Ford and traded him to the San Francisco 49ers, where he signed his current five-year deal. Ford tallied half as many sacks this season and became the subject of trade rumors again.

  • #47 (tie). Troy Aikman

    - Contract value: $85.5 million (9 years)
    - Average salary: $9.5 million

    In 1999, Troy Aikman signed what was then one of the biggest contracts in NFL history, with an extension that would run until 2007. However, as the Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty came to an end, by 2001, Aikman’s contract became an albatross, and he was cut before a $7 million bonus kicked in. Aikman retired rather than play for another team.

  • #43 (tie). Ezekiel Elliott

    - Contract value: $90 million (6 years)
    - Average salary: $15 million

    Before the 2019 season, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott held out for a new contract. Elliott’s game of chicken worked, as he received an extension that included $50 million in guaranteed money, making him the richest running back in NFL history. Elliott led the league in rushing in two of his first three years as a pro.

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  • #43 (tie). Trey Flowers

    - Contract value: $90 million (5 years)
    - Average salary: $18 million

    In 2018, the Detroit Lions signed Matt Patricia as head coach, and the former New England Patriots assistant was expected to build a team based on the “Patriot Way.” Patricia began poaching former Patriots and in March 2019 snagged Trey Flowers, who spent his first four seasons in New England. Flowers was the Patriots’ top pass-rusher and was coached by Patricia when he was New England’s defensive coordinator.

  • #43 (tie). Odell Beckham Jr.

    - Contract value: $90 million (5 years)
    - Average salary: $18 million

    Odell Beckham Jr. wowed fans with his acrobatic catches during his time with the New York Giants, and Big Blue rewarded the former LSU star with a contract in 2018 that included $65 million guaranteed. However, Beckham was traded less than a year later to the Cleveland Browns, ending a dazzling yet rollercoaster tenure in New York.

  • #43 (tie). Stephen Davis

    - Contract value: $90 million (9 years)
    - Average salary: $10 million

    The contract of former NFL running back Stephen Davis serves as Example A of how weird football contracts can be. The 2000 Davis deal with the Washington Redskins was worth over $90 million, with incentives that could make it worth almost $140 million. However, only a $6.5 million signing bonus was guaranteed, and Davis was out of Washington after the 2002 season.

  • #42. Alex Smith

    - Contract value: $94 million (4 years)
    - Average salary: $23.5 million

    With Patrick Mahomes ready to take over as quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, former starter Alex Smith went to Washington in January 2018 and signed a massive new contract. Smith ended up suffering a gruesome leg injury that threatened his life, yet the signal-caller still hopes to play football again one day.

  • #41. Adrian Peterson

    - Contract value: $96 million (7 years)
    - Average salary: $13.7 million

    Toward the end of Adrian Peterson’s monster seven-year deal, the Minnesota Vikings’ star running back worried the final years would not be paid out. Peterson voiced his displeasure without the guarantees and eventually earned his full salaries over the next two seasons, but 2016 would be the end of Peterson’s tenure in Minnesota. In 10 years with the Vikings, Peterson ran for 11,747 yards.

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