The 30 richest athletes who are still playing in 2019
Athletes like Tom Brady, Justin Verlander, and Pau Gasol have been professional athletes for decades. Guys like Eli Manning, Zack Greinke, and LeBron James haven’t been around quite as long. Yet all six are among the highest-paid athletes who are still playing today. So what gets a player paid? Is it longevity? Talent? Both? There’s only one way to find out.
30. Matthew Stafford – $178,278,969
Though he’s only played in one Pro Bowl throughout his entire NFL career, Matthew Stafford is the 30th-highest paid active athlete in American sports. The Detroit Lions made Stafford their quarterback of the future by selecting him with the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and he has rewarded them with three playoff appearances. It pays to be an average quarterback.
Some fans might argue that the Lions’ success with Stafford at the helm isn’t worth the price tag that comes with having him as quarterback, and that’s fair. But prior to Stafford’s arrival, Detroit had not made the playoffs since 1999.
29. Matt Ryan – $178,707,925
Over the years, Matt Ryan has helped the Atlanta Falcons become a legitimate contender. The 2016 NFL MVP led his team to the Super Bowl, where the Falcons famously blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots. Still, Ryan’s success at the quarterback position has been a net positive in Atlanta.
Ryan’s lifetime earnings put his average annual pay at more than $16 million. He has rewarded Atlanta with six playoff seasons in 11 years. The Falcons’ star quarterback has made four trips to the Pro Bowl, and he’s on track to be in the Hall of Fame discussion at the end of his career.
28. Paul Millsap – $181,245,742
Perhaps a surprising name on the list, Paul Millsap went from a second-round pick in 2006 to one of the richest active athletes in the United States in 2019. A four-time All-Star, the power forward has been a steady contributor wherever he plays. But has his impact on the court been worth more than $180 million in lifetime earnings?
Millsap isn’t a superstar, but he is a solid piece on a contributing team. Though his lifetime earnings may seem high, the longevity of his career puts his average annual salary just under $13 million. That feels just about right for a player of Millsap’s caliber.
27. David Price – $184,042,498
It’s been somewhat of an up-and-down career for lefty pitcher David Price, but his great moments have more than made up for the rough stretches. Making his debut for the Tampa Bay Rays back in 2008, Price quickly began to establish himself as a dominant pitcher. Starting in 2010, the lefty hurler made five All-Star appearances in six years. In 2012, he won the Cy Young.
Though Price has been an ace in the regular season, his playoff struggles have been well documented. In fact, he was 0-8 in his first nine postseason starts. But in 2018, Price finally changed the narrative. The Rex Sox pitcher was superb throughout the playoffs, earning two wins en route to a World Series title.
26. Tyson Chandler – $185,171,645
The 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler towers above his competition. The center was the second overall selection in the 2001 NBA Draft, and he’s managed to stick around the league for nearly two decades since. Chandler has been well-compensated throughout his NBA career, earning more than $185 million in career earnings.
Over the years, Chandler has developed a reputation as one of the best shot-blockers in basketball. The towering center has been selected to three NBA All-Defense teams, and he earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012. Chandler was the defensive keystone for the Dallas Mavericks in their 2011 run to an NBA Championship. Maybe teaming up with LeBron James could help Chandler win another title.
25. James Harden – $185,482,251
Making more than $185 million before you even hit the age of 30 must be a nice feeling. Over the course of his NBA career, James Harden has evolved from a stud sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder to one of the premier scorers in the NBA. Harden’s game has redefined the impact analytics can have on professional basketball.
There’s no one in basketball who knows how to draw fouls quite like Harden. The point guard has predicated his game on isolation three-pointers and getting to the foul line. It may upset some fans, but it works for the Rockets. And it’s made Harden a very, very rich man.
24. Al Horford – $186,386,768
Thirty-three-year-old Al Horford is still doing damage on the court, more than a decade after being selected with the third overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Horford spent 10 years with the Atlanta Hawks before signing a huge contract with the Boston Celtics in free agency. But in 2019, the five-time All-Star will play for a new team.
In 2019, Horford signed a four-year, $109 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. If he plays for another five seasons, Horford could potentially boost his lifetime earnings to a figure that’s more than $300 million. But even if Horford were to retire today, he’d be in pretty good financial shape.
23. Ben Roethlisberger – $187,286,864
Perhaps it’s surprising to see a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback so low on a list of the richest active players in sports. After all, Ben Roethlisberger was a first-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft and is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. But despite the 37-year-old quarterback’s success, he’s behind five other active signal-callers in career earnings.
Still, $187 million is nothing to scoff at. The six-time Pro Bowl quarterback has racked up millions of dollars in salary over the years, and he should retire very comfortably. “Big Ben” is known for his toughness, though, which means retirement might not come for a few more years.
22. Robinson Canó – $191,799,240
One of just three position-playing baseball players to make the list, Robinson Canó has been a Hall of Fame-caliber second baseman for the majority of his 15-year career. And of the three position players to make the list, Canó is the only one to not play first base. In other words, second basemen are rarely paid as well as Canó has been paid.
But the longtime Yankee has been paid well for good reason. Canó has hit more than 320 home runs throughout his career, and he’s an eight-time All-Star. The second baseman has won five Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and a World Series championship as well.
21. Blake Griffin – $192,256,894
Many players on this list share the commonality of being a top draft pick. Blake Griffin, the first pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, is no different. The power forward may be best known for his winning performance in the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest, but he has been an impact player on the court for more than a decade.
Early in his career, Griffin’s game revolved around dominating the paint and viciously dunking over his opponents. But as shooting became more vital, the big man began to establish a three-point shot that is now a major part of his game. Griffin’s willingness to adapt is a major part of why he’s been such a successful basketball player.
20. LaMarcus Aldridge – $194,740,888
Another top NBA draft pick to make the list, LaMarcus Aldridge was selected with the second pick of the 2006 NBA Draft. The seven-time All-Star spent the first nine years of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers before signing with the San Antonio Spurs in 2015. The big man’s fadeaway jump shot has become a staple of the Spurs’ offense since then.
Though he’s not known as a major superstar, Aldridge has been one of the best players in basketball over the past decade. With two All-NBA Second Team and three All-NBA Third Team selections, Aldridge always seems to be on the precipice of superstardom. His career earnings — nearly $195 million — reflect that as well.
19. Cole Hamels – $196,776,999
Ace-caliber lefty pitchers get paid. That’s certainly been the case with Cole Hamels, who has brought in more than $196 million in career earnings since his MLB debut in 2006. By his second year in the MLB, Hamels was an All-Star. A year later, he led the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series title and won the World Series MVP Award.
Among Hamels’ impressive accolades are a no-hitter, four All-Star appearances, and six innings of a combined no-hitter. With more than 2,500 strikeouts to his name, it’s safe to say Cole Hamels is a guy teams will always want to pay the big bucks.
18. Philip Rivers – $202,917,656
Longtime Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has been an integral part of the team, both in San Diego and Los Angeles. The fourth overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, Rivers was traded to San Diego in exchange for Eli Manning. It’s safe to say that trade has worked out well for both teams involved.
Though he hasn’t yet managed to lead the Chargers to a Super Bowl title, Rivers has been a raging success for the Bolts. The eight-time Pro Bowler formed an unstoppable connection with star tight end Antonio Gates, and he famously played through a torn ACL in a playoff game. Now that’s what you call grit.
17. Clayton Kershaw – $204,034,000
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been one of the best teams of the 21st century, thanks in large part to the dominance of lefty pitcher Clayton Kershaw. The eight-time All-Star has won the National League Cy Young Award three times, and he even brought home an NL MVP award in 2014.
Kershaw’s long list of accomplishments includes a no-hitter, as well as a triple crown — something only he and Randy Johnson have accomplished in the National League since 1985. Kershaw’s success has been rewarded with more than $200 million worth of career earnings to date. It’s hard to imagine he’ll slow down any time soon.
16. Aaron Rodgers – $204,044,529
Already one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Aaron Rodgers is the NFL’s leader in career regular season passer rating. Rodgers spent the first three years of his career as Brett Favre’s backup for the Green Bay Packers. In 2008, he became the team’s starting signal-caller. Just two years later, Rodgers led his team to a Super Bowl victory and won the Super Bowl MVP award.
Rodgers is a two-time NFL MVP award winner, and he’s been one of the most impressive statistical quarterbacks to ever step foot on a football field. He’s been rewarded with more than $200 million in career earnings for his dominance.
15. Russell Westbrook – $205,415,040
Longtime Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has made quite the career for himself. Once teammates with Kevin Durant and James Harden, Westbrook eventually became the last of the three remaining in OKC before he was eventually joined by Paul George. But when the Los Angeles Clippers traded for George in 2019, Westbrook demanded a trade.
Oklahoma City quickly granted the point guard’s request, shipping him off to Houston to join Harden once again. With Harden and Westbrook on the roster, Houston now has two former MVPs. Westbrook has been to eight All-Star games, led the league in scoring twice, and led the league in assists twice. Pairing the star point guard with Harden should be fascinating — and expensive.
14. Tom Brady – $212,166,804
In what’s probably a surprise to many, the NFL’s greatest quarterback of all time isn’t even one of the top two highest earners at his position. This can be largely attributed to Tom Brady’s decision to accept contract offers well below his market value for the majority of his career. Being married to Gisele Bündchen has its benefits, one of those being that money isn’t an issue for Brady.
Though he’s made hundreds of millions of dollars, Brady’s decision not to max out his salary has helped the New England Patriots win six Super Bowl championships during his tenure. Because when you’re not paying Brady as much as other teams are paying their quarterbacks, you can afford to pay players at other positions.
13. Zack Greinke – $215,177,500
Star pitcher Zack Greinke has been a standout hurler wherever his career has taken him. Greinke made his debut with the Kansas City Royals, dominating his competition from 2004 until he was traded in 2010. The right-hander has played for six teams throughout his career, making six All-Star appearances and winning an American League Cy Young Award.
Greinke’s hefty career earnings can be attributed to multiple variables. First, he was called up at the age of just 20 years old, making him the youngest player in the MLB at the time of his debut. Second, the pitcher signed a massive contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015, which will pay him more than $200 million by the end of the six-year term.
12. Pau Gasol – $215,452,226
Though he may not be thought of as an NBA superstar, Pau Gasol’s career body of work makes him one of the richest active athletes in any sport. The Spanish big man spent nearly a decade anchoring the Memphis Grizzlies before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Gasol helped the Lakers win back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.j
A six-time All-Star, Gasol has been one of the biggest success stories in an era known for its dominant international post players like Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, and Gasol. Still playing in 2019, Gasol has racked up more than $215 million in career earnings.
11. Félix Hernández – $221,334,994
“King Félix” Hernández has anchored the Seattle Mariners’ rotation since 2005. 15 years later, he’s still one of the team’s top pitchers. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner has led the American League in ERA twice, but his individual accolades go well beyond that. Hernández has accomplished some of the rarest feats in pitching: an immaculate inning and a perfect game.
Hernández is a six-time All-Star, which includes a run of five straight years as the Mariners’ representative at the All-Star game. The hurler has struck out more than 2,500 batters in his career, so it’s understandable why Seattle has done its best to keep the pitcher around.
10. Drew Brees – $221,710,422
For decades, Drew Brees has been one of the NFL’s most consistent performers at the quarterback position. He spent the duration of his rookie contract with the San Diego Chargers, but Brees eventually decided to sign with the New Orleans Saints in free agency. Though he was great in San Diego, Brees would become a superstar in his new home.
Brees led the Saints to their first Super Bowl in franchise history and has since become a hero in the city of New Orleans. The 12-time Pro Bowler has led the league in passing yards seven times and touchdowns another four. Though he doesn’t get the shine of Brady or Rodgers, Brees is one of the all-time greats.
9. Kevin Durant – $225,382,333
Perhaps the best basketball player of the 21st century not named LeBron James, Kevin Durant has dominated since he was first selected with the second pick of the 2007 NBA Draft. The forward has made 10 All-Star appearances, and he’s led the league in scoring four times.
Though he never managed to find playoff success for the Seattle Sonics or Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant won the NBA Finals MVP Award twice as a member of the Golden State Warriors. After winning his second title, Durant opted to sign a massive deal with the New Jersey Nets in free agency, which will add to his already impressive career earnings of more than $225 million.
8. Justin Verlander – $229,366,000
Longtime Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander has been one of the MLB’s most exciting hurlers for more than a decade. The fireballer is known for his impressive fastball, which he has used to earn eight All-Star appearances. Verlander was virtually unhittable in 2011, earning the Cy Young and MVP awards, as well as the American League triple crown.
In 2017, the Houston Astros acquired Verlander in hopes of winning a World Series title. The pitcher ended up being the perfect addition to the team, anchoring a dominant Houston rotation that would eventually defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. With nearly $230 million in career earnings, Verlander is sitting pretty.
7. Eli Manning – $235,280,004
He may not be Peyton, but Eli Manning has more Super Bowl rings than his older brother. That’s gotta count for something, right? The younger Manning brother has been a steady contributor to the New York Giants since he was traded to New York on draft night in 2004.
Though Manning doesn’t have the statistics to deserve Hall of Fame recognition, many believe his two Super Bowls will leave voters no other choice than to induct Manning after he retires. Regardless, the quarterback has earned more than $235 million over the course of his career, along with his two titles. At this point, Manning is probably very content with how his career has gone.
6. Dwight Howard – $240,096,336
At his peak, Dwight Howard was arguably one of the most dominant players in NBA history. The player, once nicknamed “Superman,” was the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. With Howard in the post, the Orlando Magic were one of the NBA’s top teams, famously eliminating the LeBron James-led Cavaliers to make a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals.
The Magic fell short of the title, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Howard’s career never seemed to reach that pinnacle again. Howard’s later years caused many to forget about his dominance, but the eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year probably doesn’t mind. After all, Howard has earned more than $240 million in salary throughout his career.
5. Chris Paul – $260,957,260
Point guard Chris Paul has excelled throughout the years since being selected as the fourth pick of the 2005 NBA Draft. The $260 million man spent just more than half a decade as the face of the New Orleans Hornets before making his way to Los Angeles in a trade to the Clippers.
Paul, a nine-time All-Star, has led the NBA in assists four times and steals six times. He’s also earned seven selections to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. After a somewhat brief stint with the Houston Rockets, Paul was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Russell Westbrook deal.
4. CC Sabathia – $264,785,714
Left-handed pitcher CC Sabathia has more than 200 million reasons (dollars) to thank the New York Yankees. Sabathia came up with the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers, but he elected to sign what was then a record $161 million contract to join baseball’s most historic franchise. Sabathia has won more than 250 games throughout his career, which is the most of any active pitcher by a wide margin.
Sabathia, a six-time All-Star, took home the American League Cy Young Award in 2007 and, two years later, helped his Yankees win the World Series. This will be the pitcher’s final year in the majors, so this is the first and last time he’ll make our list.
3. Miguel Cabrera – $279,912,000
One of the greatest players of his generation, first baseman Miguel Cabrera has racked up nearly $280 million in career earnings. The 11-time All-Star has led the American League in batting average four times and homers twice, all while playing for the Detroit Tigers. But before he was a Tiger, Cabrera helped the Miami Marlins become one of the most unlikely World Series champions in history.
Cabrera is a two-time American League MVP, and he even managed to win the AL batting triple crown in 2012. With a career batting average over .310 and nearly 500 home runs, he’ll go down as one of the greatest players of the 21st century.
2. Albert Pujols – $298,470,000
Another dominant first baseman, Dominican slugger Albert Pujols has hit more than 650 home runs throughout his career. The 10-time All-Star won the National League MVP award three times, and as a result, he’s raked in the most money of any active player in the MLB.
Pujols guided the St. Louis Cardinals to World Series championships in 2006 and 2011, cementing himself as one of the greatest Cardinals of all time. Pujols’ dominance throughout the years — both for St. Louis, as well as the Los Angeles Angels — has earned him nearly $300 million in lifetime earnings. How’s that for a retirement fund?
1. LeBron James – $306,984,009
Is it any surprise? LeBron James is the only player in the NBA who has a case to make as the greatest player in NBA history not named Michael Jordan. And by the end of his career, who knows — maybe he’ll go down as the best basketball player of all time.
“King James” has led three teams to victory in the NBA Finals, winning Finals MVP in each series. He’s a four-time NBA MVP, a 15-time All-Star, and a 12-time All-NBA First Team selection. Those are just a few of the 300 million+ reasons why James is the richest active American athlete on the face of the Earth.