Cha-Ching! The Highest-Paid Players in the NFL
Bigger hits, bigger plays, bigger contracts. Players today are being paid more than ever, and that’s taking inflation into account.
Please note that players are arranged by the average amount ($) earned per year. Not the total value of the contract or dollars guaranteed at signing.
It is also worth noting that in the case where two players earn the same on a per year average, we will then sort it by the total value of the contract. So with Derek Carr and Drew Brees earning the same on a yearly average, we have Carr as the higher paid player because the total value of his contract exceeds Brees’.
Without further adieu, here are the NFL’s highest-paid players.
30. Chandler Jones: $16,500,000
He may be, except for the sun, the best thing going in Arizona. Chandler Jones is highly paid for his services, and rightfully so. Since being drafted by the Patriots in 2012, Jones ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks, and since the Pats jettisoned their star edge rusher to the desert, he’s led the NFL in sacks.
Despite the Cardinals being incredibly inept in 2018, Jones has managed to keep up the steady production. As the Cardinals continue to rebuild, look for Jones to anchor the defense and provide a glimmer of hope to fans patiently waiting for Josh Rosen to develop.
29. J.J. Watt: $16,667,571
Injuries have plagued and slowed down the formidable force that J.J. Watt is, but when this defensive end is healthy and on the field, he’s a force to be reckoned with. A three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Watt is the glue that holds the Texans defense together.
Watt currently holds Texans franchise records for most career sacks and most career forced and recovered fumbles. However, his greatest contribution to his adopted city was raising over $40 million after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston in 2017. For his outstanding efforts, he was awarded the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
28. Justin Houston: $18,833,333
The first relative surprise here is Kansas City’s Justin Houston. Make no mistake, Houston can be a dominant force on the defensive side of things and has appeared in four Pro Bowls and led the NFL in sacks in 2014 with a near-record-breaking 22.
With the emergence of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the time for Houston and the Chiefs to win is now, and with Mahomes always putting up big numbers and giving the Chiefs a chance, it will be up to Houston and the sub-par defense to preserve the lead. Houston is the highest-paid player on the Chiefs and is the only player from that team to make this list.
27. Antonio Brown: $17,000,000 (68,000,000 total)
Business is boomin’ and the numbers back it up. Antonio Brown is considered one of the top-two receivers in the NFL, the other being Odell Beckham Jr. Brown started off his NFL career as a virtual unknown out of Central Michigan University, but broke onto the scene quickly and hasn’t slowed down.
He consistently ranks at or near the top of the NFL for receiving yards and touchdowns and has six Pro Bowl selections. Without Brown, Big Ben and the Steelers would not find themselves competing for a playoff spot year after year. Brown’s father, Eddie Brown, is considered one of (if not) the best Arena League Football players ever.
26. Olivier Vernon: $17,000,000 (85,000,000 total)
The first real surprise here is Giants linebacker Olivier Vernon, and people are beginning to question whether or not the Giants should have shelled out that kind of cash for a linebacker with no Pro Bowls or significant awards. Since signing with New York in 2016, Vernon has only played a full 16 games once and hasn’t reached double-digit sacks.
For the 2018 season, Vernon ranks low on the Giants’ roster for total tackles and hasn’t made the defensive impact the team had hoped for. Maybe that money should have been spent on signing a new quarterback or offensive lineman to protect the aging Manning.
25. Fletcher Cox: $17,000,000 (102,600,000 total)
Fletcher Cox has been money well spent. Despite the hefty price tag, Cox has lived up to his contract’s expectations. First and foremost, he was an integral part of an Eagles defense that finally brought that championship-starved city its first Super Bowl. The former first-round pick has made it to three Pro Bowls and is a massive interior presence on a talented Eagles defense.
While his play may be superb, his morals may be questionable. In 2017, Cox was sued for allegedly ruining a marriage after texts leaked between Cox and a married woman from North Carolina. It looks like Cox is disrupting more than just offensive lines.
24. DeMarcus Lawrence: $17,143,000
The Cowboys. Are they for real or are they a real fraud? To be determined, but DeMarcus Lawrence appears to be the real deal, and he’s getting paid like one. He’s a constant threat to reach the quarterback and is the Cowboys’ leader in sacks. In 2017, Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks, was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
Despite Lawrence being a stellar pass-rusher, he’s had a few controversies that have pursued him like an end in hot pursuit of the QB. One of those instances was a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. As long as he can stay on the field, he’ll be worth the hefty price tag.
23. Ezekiel Ansah: $17,143,000
Ghana’s very own Ziggy Ansah is currently fourth all-time on Detroit’s franchise sack record. Since being selected fifth overall in 2013, Ansah has been harassing quarterbacks and providing the forever-average Lions with a modicum of stability on the defensive side of the ball.
Despite consistently being one of their best players, Ansah has only made it to one Pro Bowl and has just two years with double-digit sacks. However, the former BYU standout currently holds the NFL record for sacks on Thanksgiving Day. Now if only he could take his turkey day success and translate it to the rest of the games. Then the Lions would actually have something to celebrate.
22. Case Keenum: $18,000,000 (36,000,000 total)
Denver is going to be regretting this for a long time. In a classic case of overpaying, the Broncos shelled out top-dollar for an average — at best — quarterback. Keenum wants to think of himself as a gunslinger, a title he earned back in his college days at Houston where he was the nation’s most prolific passer.
But in the NFL, Keenum is no Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. He’s just an overpaid player who was the beneficiary of a lucky play (the Minneapolis Miracle). In his first year in Denver, the QB has struggled mightily and is clearly not the answer John Elway was looking for.
21. Blake Bortles: $18,000,000 (54,000,000 total)
Someone arrest this man for grand larceny. He has stolen so much money and hope from the Jaguars and their fans that it should seriously be a crime. Bortles may not be a good quarterback, but he must be great speaker and convincing man for getting the Jags to pony up that much money for his services.
Do you really think the Jags were a play or two away from the Super Bowl because of Bortles? They made it that far only because of a strong running game and a lights-out defense. Bortles currently occupies the Jags’ two, three, and four spots on single-season interceptions and is second in franchise history for total interceptions thrown. Did he come with a return policy?
20. Odell Beckham Jr. : $18,000,000 (90,000,000 total)
Ah, finally a player who is worth every single penny. Yes, OBJ has some obnoxious tendencies and his character is put into question from time to time. But on the field, there isn’t another receiver better at catching balls and finding the end zone. And all of OBJ’s production has come during the brutal Giants demise.
All of it has come with one of the most lethargic QBs in recent memory throwing him the ball: Eli Manning. Eventually, Manning will retire (although many believe that should have happened eons ago) and when that day comes, Beckham will be waiting patiently to snatch up balls from his new best friend.
19. Von Miller: $19,016,667
The Orange Crush. The Vonster is another man who is actually worth the money. Since entering the league back in 2011, Miller has recorded double-digit sacks in each season but one. In Super Bowl 50, Miller harassed Cam Newton all game long and was named Super Bowl MVP after a two-and-one-half-sack and two-forced-fumble performance.
Although the transition after Peyton Manning retired has been rough at times, Von Miller’s elite level of play hasn’t diminished one bit, and now that he’s paired with Bradley Chubb, he could be even more dangerous. Now if Case Keenum could start throwing more passes to the Broncos instead of the other team…
18. Ryan Tannehill: $19,250,000
The Dolphins operate their franchise like a fish out of water. Their slogan is “Phins Up” but it might as well be “Phins Out.” This franchise can’t seem to do much right except for pulling off last-second miracles against New England. Where’s Jay Cutler when you need him? Ryan Tannehill is the team’s highest paid player and with each passing game that move looks more and more regrettable.
Eventually the Dolphins will get tired of finishing around 8-8 and move on from Tannehill. To be fair, the Dolphins have a laundry list of problems that also need to be addressed, so placing all of the blame on Tannehill and his inordinate salary isn’t exactly fair.
17. Cam Newton: $20,760,000
One day, Cam is worth the nearly $21 million he is paid. The next day, he’s not. One day, it looks like Cam is back to his MVP form and capable of leading the Panthers to the promised land. The next day, people begin discussing whether the Newton era should be over.
Despite the consistent criticism Newton has faced recently, the quarterback is a cornerstone of a franchise searching for its identity. The Panthers went from Super Bowl favorites to one of the sloppier teams in the NFC in a matter of years, but the majority of that slide shouldn’t be attributed to Newton. His receivers have been lackluster as has been the case with the o-line.
16. Philip Rivers: $20,812,500
Sidearm Phil commands a ton of money, but apparently he’s worth it. He has managed to stay relatively healthy throughout his career and has miraculously preserved his arm despite throwing an insane amount of passes year after year. With a healthy defense and a solid running game, Rivers is the exact type of quarterback the Chargers need at the helm if they are to make a Super Bowl run.
Rivers is a solid decision maker, good under pressure, and is dying to win. Besides, his loyalty to the Chargers is unheard of. Then again, most people would be pretty loyal to an employer offering nearly $21 million per year.
15. Eli Manning: $21,000,000
Just appalling. The fact that Eli Manning is still playing is astonishing. The fact that the Giants are dumb enough to pay him this much money is unfathomable. The greatest contribution he’s given to football is the collection of hilarious faces he makes after throwing a pick (common) to getting sacked (very common). Somehow there is a debate surrounding Manning’s Hall of Fame chances.
How is this a legitimate debate? His touchdown to interception ratio is atrocious and the two Super Bowl rings on his hand? Those are the byproducts of two of the craziest, statistically unlikely plays in the history of football. Expect the careers of Barkley and Beckham Jr. to be suspended in a fruitless limbo as long as Manning is under center.
14. Ben Roethlisberger: $21,850,000
He’s earned his money. Two Super Bowl victories in three appearances. Countless playoff appearances and clutch plays. For the Steelers, he’s “Big Ben,” but for other teams he’s a “Big Pain.” Big Ben has made it to six Pro Bowls and led the NFL in passing twice, but his greatest contribution to the game has been his ability to play a “backyard” style of football.
He’ll scramble in the pocket, avoid numerous sacks, and heave up a ball only to be caught by his pal Antonio Brown. Each year the Steelers have the potential to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, and Big Ben is a big reason why.
13. Russell Wilson: $21,900,000
On one side of the coin, Russell Wilson is easily worth the money. He’s one of the game’s most dynamic quarterbacks and has been winning at an unprecedented rate since entering the league. In just his second year, Wilson guided the Seahawks to the franchise’s only Super Bowl victory. However, with stardom comes a big payday, and once Wilson’s rookie contract was up, he was set to make a lot of money.
And he got did, but at what cost? Some say that Seattle was able to build a Super Bowl team because they had the money, thanks to Wilson’s relatively cheap rookie deal, to acquire talent on both sides of the ball. When Wilson got paid, it prevented the Seahawks from signing high-profile free agents and surrounding Wilson with the necessary pieces to win again. Tough call on how to handle this one.
12. Joe Flacco: $22,133,333
This is the face of a backup quarterback. This is the face of mediocrity who has been given far too many second chances because he brought a Super Bowl to Baltimore in Ray Lewis’ final season. Flacco has the Ravens hamstrung with his huge contract and mediocre play.
The writing was on the wall when the Ravens drafted Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round, and it now appears Flacco’s time wearing purple and black is over. The only problem is finding a willing suitor to take on his massive contract. He’s an aging QB and a financial burden. Not a winning combination.
11. Aaron Donald: $22,500,000
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a massive reason why the Rams have surged to the top of the NFL. He’s made the Pro Bowl in each season he’s been in the NFL, was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and was the AP Defensive Player of the Year. What’s most impressive about Donald is his ability to get to the quarterback.
Defensive tackles are primarily thought of as run stuffers, and getting to the quarterback is considered a bonus. But for Donald, getting to the quarterback isn’t a luxury, it’s a matter of fact. As long as he stays healthy, he’ll be worth all of the money the Rams can pony up.
10. Alex Smith: $23,500,000 (94,000,000 total)
Alex Smith is a conservative decision maker who, at age 34, has seen better days throwing the ball. The former first-overall pick has never really lived up to the hype and has been a relative disappointment for the Chiefs and Redskins, especially come playoffs. So it remains a mystery why the Redskins decided to make Smith their highest-paid player.
Obviously the quarterback position is incredibly valuable in football, but giving Smith $23.5 million per year to throw check-down passes and lose in the first round of the playoffs seems a bit excessive. To make matters worse, he suffered a potentially career-ending injury midway through the 2018 season.
9. Khalil Mack: $23,500,000 (141,000,000 total)
Wow did the Raiders make a huge mistake by not paying their best player Khalil Mack. By letting him walk, they gave up the best defensive player in the NFL, a sack master, a fumble-causing, havoc-wreaking animal who has recorded more sacks than the entire Raiders team.
And when Raiders coach John Gruden admitted that it’s hard to find a solid pass rusher in the NFL, it made the move all the more puzzling. Since Mack’s departure, the Raiders have plummeted while Chicago has turned around their fortunes and are atop the NFC North. Return of the Mack, Part II.
8. Andrew Luck: $24,594,000
He was billed as the next John Elway, and so far the comparison seems unwarranted. Andrew Luck is a solid quarterback, but for some reason, he continues to be regarded as one of the league’s best. While his numbers are solid, they are not elite. Luck has also had a hard time staying on the field and, thanks to a porous Colts line, is often on his back.
The amount he’s been sacked has taken a toll on his body and injuries have plagued the quarterback. However, as we have seen, QBs are incredibly valuable, so the Colts shelling out the big bucks for a good leader that can both run and throw very well makes sense.
7. Drew Brees: $25,000,000 (50,000,000 total)
Drew Brees has been constantly overshadowed and undervalued his entire career. People think he’s too small and worried that his arm wouldn’t be the same after surgery. And each year, Brees proves them wrong. Then his detractors will point out he’s never won an MVP and his only Super Bowl was won because of a signature sloppy Peyton Manning performance and a lucky onside kick recovery.
Then his fans will point out 12 Pro Bowls, seven-time NFL passing leader, etc. The point is, Brees is consistently undervalued and underappreciated, and it’s gratifying seeing him in the top-1o of highest paid NFL players. He deserves it and has kept the Saints relevant for over a decade.
6. Derek Carr: $25,000,000 (125,000,000 total)
Oh how the Raiders are on the verge of regretting making Derek Carr the highest paid player on their roster. We’ve already addressed the Khalil Mack disaster, but the Carr fiasco is almost as bad. The Raiders are the worst they’ve been in years, and a large reason why is their $100 million signal caller.
To clarify, not everything is his fault, but here are some reasons why Carr is the definition of over-paid. He’s yet to eclipse 4,000 yards passing, has led the Raiders to the playoffs only once, and was caught on the field crying after being sacked. Rumors are already swirling whether the Raiders have plans to draft his replacement, but that decision has yet to be made.
5. Matthew Stafford: $27,000,000
The trend of over-spending on quarterbacks is downright frustrating, and Matthew Stafford is the golden boy of this trend. When Stafford signed his lucrative contract extension back in 2017, it made him the highest-paid player in NFL history. So what have the Lions gotten in return for Stafford and his strong arm?
One Pro Bowl. Three playoff appearances (all Wildcard games, all losses). The one redeeming trait Stafford has is his age. He’s only 30 and has already played 10 seasons, so there isn’t a defense Stafford hasn’t seen. There also isn’t a defensive player who hasn’t picked him off.
4. Jimmy Garoppolo: $27,500,000
The jury is still out with Jimmy G. He entered the league as the heir to the Patriots throne and was being groomed by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the QB of the future. He had all the physical tools and was receiving tutelage from the greatest of all time. But the Pats couldn’t keep him on the bench forever, and Jimmy G was due for a big payday when his rookie deal expired.
The Pats, realizing their precarious situation, preemptively traded him to the 49ers so they could get something in return. Despite his limited body of work, the Niners gave him a massive deal. In just his first season as the team’s starter, Garoppolo tore his ACL, ending his season in the third game. Time will tell if he’s worth the money.
3. Kirk Cousins: $28,000,000
You like that! That was Kirk Cousins’ battle cry after a big Redskins victory. Since signing with Minnesota, Kirk has hardly lived up to his contract and hasn’t had much opportunity to let out another signature shriek. That’s because Kirk is average. He’s smart, a good leader, and understands the game well, but his physical tools aren’t elite and neither are his stats.
His first season in Minnesota can only be considered a disappointment, considering the franchise believed he was the missing piece needed for a Super Bowl run. Far from it. Captain Kirk has led the Vikings to a middling record while angering nearly every fan in the process.
2. Matt Ryan: $30,000,000
If Matt Ryan could have prevented the worst Super Bowl collapse in history, fans wouldn’t question his contract. They wouldn’t question whether or not “Matty Ice” does actually have ice in his veins. In that Super Bowl year, Ryan was named league MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, and made it to his fourth Pro Bowl.
But he wasn’t able to bring it all home, and since that collapse, the Falcons have been trending down. Ryan is 33 and recently stated that he plans on playing into his 40s, but the real question is how well will he play when he’s in his 40s.
1. Aaron Rodgers: $33,500,000
Is he the greatest of all time? If you live in Wisconsin, yes. If not, no. He has one Super Bowl and countless passing records, but his attitude, at times, can be detestable. When he’s feeling it, he’s on top of the world, but when things go south, so does his leadership. The frowns and hands on the hips come out. His relationship with former head coach Mike McCarthy soured each year after their Super Bowl victory and reached a tipping point.
The coach was shown the door. Clearly Rodgers has unbelievable arm talent and is probably the most gifted QB in the league, but as we’ve seen with other players, like Brady, Russell Wilson, and Brees, winning in the NFL comes down to a lot more than natural ability. So if Rodgers fails to bring another Lombardi back to Title Town, all of those millions will be for naught.