The NFL's Top Earners of All Time, Ranked
As one of the most popular and well-attended professional sports leagues in the U.S., the National Football League (NFL) is a money-making machine. But, more so than other popular sports, football goes hand-in-hand with physical risk, and a player’s longevity is not guaranteed.
When an NFL team makes a high offer, you can bet they expect the player on the receiving end to be worth every penny. Take a look at the standout athletes who are the highest-paid NFL players of all time.
37. Kirk Cousins (QB) | $100.6 million
Drafted by Washington in 2012, one-time Pro Bowler Kirk Cousins set several franchise records as the team’s quarterback. But after a two-year struggle to come to an agreement over his contract, Cousins moved on.
36. Adrian Peterson (RB) | $101.8 million
Named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, Adrian Peterson’s 13-season career has had its ups and downs. The ups include being a seven-time Pro Bowler, and earning a whopping $20.5 million — including a $12 million signing bonus — while playing for the Minnesota Vikings in 2011.
35. Champ Bailey (CB) | $102.8 million
Champ Bailey played in the NFL for an impressive 15 seasons — and, in 12 of those seasons, he was a Pro Bowler. That skill and longevity allowed him to amass some impressive earnings, including $16.5 million (thanks to a $3 million roster bonus) in 2010 alone.
34. Calais Campbell (DE) | $103.1 million
Defensive end Calais Campbell was drafted in 2008 by the Arizona Cardinals, playing for the team until 2016. Since 2017, he has worn a Jacksonville Jaguars uniform, but his highest single-season earnings were still with the Cardinals.
33.Julio Jones (WR) | $103.1 million
Julio Jones, wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, signed an impressive three-year extension in September 2019 that totaled a cool $66 million. That means Jones is making $22 million a year — a figure that makes him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL.
32. Trent Williams (LT) | $104.9 million
Drafted by Washington in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Trent Williams has played every season since then with the team — until now. Williams didn’t report for the 2019 season and has chosen to hold out, hoping to be traded in the wake of reported dissatisfaction with the team’s medical staff.
31. Joe Haden (CB) | $107.5 million
After being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2010, Joe Haden made a name for himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Upon signing Haden, the Browns offered him a five-year $50 million contract — with $26 million guaranteed.
30. Von Miller (OLB) | $108.5 million
Outside linebacker Von Miller has played for the Denver Broncos since he was drafted in 2011. According to Business Insider, both the total value of Miller’s contract and his signing bonus are the third-largest for a defensive player.
29. Russell Wilson (QB) | $109.4 million
After signing a multi-year extension, Russell Wilson became the highest-paid NFL player in the 2019 season. This season alone, he is earning an impressive $35 million — thanks to a $30 million signing bonus.
28. Jason Peters (OT) | $111.7 million
At 37 years old, Jason Peters is considered "old" by sports standards — and especially by NFL standards. Nonetheless, the 15-season vet has no intention of retiring, and he signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles ahead of the 2019 season.
27. Terrell Suggs (LB) | $112.2 million
Terrell Suggs is 36 years old and has played in the NFL for 17 seasons. Like Jason Peters, Suggs doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon. For most of his lengthy career, he played with the Baltimore Ravens, but, in 2018, Suggs became a free agent and signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
26. Calvin Johnson (WR) | $113.8 million
Although he didn’t win any championship titles during his nine-season career, Calvin Johnson was selected for six Pro Bowls and was a three-time All-Pro player. In 2013, just two years before he retired, Johnson made a career high annual salary of $25 million for the season.
25. Gerald McCoy (DT) | $118.1 million
A six-time Pro Bowler during eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gerald McCoy now plays defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers. His contract is only for one year, but it nabbed him $8 million on the heels of the Bucs dropping him.
24. Mario Williams (DE) | $120.4 million
Mario Williams went strong for 11 seasons, playing defensive end for the Houston Texans, the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. Business Insider notes that Williams was the number one overall draft pick back in 2006 when the NFL didn’t restrict the amount of a rookie’s contract.
23. Cam Newton (QB) | $121.4 million million
Cam Newton has played for the Carolina Panthers since being drafted in 2011 as the team’s first overall pick. Within a one-year span, Newton nabbed a national championship title, received the Heisman Trophy, was drafted by the Panthers and won the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award — obviously a record-breaking year.
22. Jay Cutler (QB) | $122.2 million
Although Jay Cutler was only a one-time Pro Bowler, he made significant contributions as a quarterback to several teams, including the Denver Broncos, the Chicago Bears and the Miami Dolphins. After some highs and lows with the Bears, the franchise bought out the remainder of Cutler’s contract for $2 million, releasing him to retire from the NFL.
21. Joe Thomas (OT) | $122.9 million
For 11 seasons, Joe Thomas played offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns — the team that drafted him third overall in 2007. Regarded as one of the best offensive linemen of all time, Thomas is also one of the highest-earning players. In 2011, he made a career high of $19 million for the season.
20. Darrelle Revis (CB) | $124.2 million
Considered one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history, Darrelle Revis is probably most often associated with the New York Jets, but he also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New England Patriots and Kansas City. Clearly, he wasn’t afraid to be a free agent — and that risk paid off in high earnings.
19. Michael Vick (QB) | $124.8 million
Although four-time Pro Bowler Michael Vick never nabbed a championship title, he still made waves. Drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, Vick also played for the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
18. Tony Romo (QB) | $127.4 million
Quarterback Tony Romo played for the Dallas Cowboys from 2003 to 2016. Although he began his career as a holder, Romo became Dallas’ starting QB by the 2006 season and was a four-time Pro Bowler. His highest single-season earnings came in at a whopping $26.5 million, thanks to a $25 million signing bonus, for the 2013 season.
17. Sam Bradford (QB) | $130.0 million
Drafted in 2010 by the St. Louis Rams, Sam Bradford was one of the last rookies who didn’t have restrictions on how much he could be paid. His six-year deal climbed to $78 million — and didn’t end there.
16. Brett Favre (QB) | $137.8 million
Perhaps surprisingly, Brett Favre’s highest single-season earnings came in at a (comparatively) slim $16 million in 2010. However, Favre stuck around and played the game for a whopping 20 seasons, making his career earnings roughly $137.8 million.
15. Ndamukong Suh (DT) | $148.0 million
Five-time Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh has played in the NFL for 10 seasons, accepting playing deals with the Detroit Lions, the Miami Dolphins, the Los Angeles Rams and, most recently, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Back in 2015, Suh nabbed a six-year contract with the Dolphins that totaled a whopping $114.4 million.
14. Alex Smith (QB) | $161.5 million
Quarterback Alex Smith has an impressive track record, leading his team to the playoffs five times in seven years. After being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, he made a name with the Bay Area team before later signing for several seasons with Kansas City.
13. Julius Peppers (LB) | $165.0 million
With 17 seasons and nine Pro Bowls under his belt, Julius Peppers retired in 2019. The linebacker hit a career high in terms of highest single-season earnings in 2010, garnering $20.2 million, with a $6.5 million signing bonus.
12. Joe Flacco (QB) | $166.3 million
Joe Flacco was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 and played with the team for a decade. In 2013, his single-season earnings hit a career high of $30 million — thanks to a $29 million signing bonus. The total six-year contract came to $120.6 million — a record high for a QB at the time.
11. Carson Palmer (QB) | $174.1 million
Snatched up by the Cincinnati Bengals as the first overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, Carson Palmer led his team to the franchise’s first winning season and playoff appearance in 15 years. During his tenure with the Bengals, he had two Pro Bowl appearances.
10. Larry Fitzgerald (WR) | $174.5 million
Over the course of 15 seasons, Larry Fitzgerald had an impressive 11 Pro Bowl appearances. Drafted third overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2004 NFL Draft, the wide receiver is still playing for the franchise. Notably, he’s the only non-QB in this list’s top ten.
9. Matt Stafford (QB) | $197.8 million
Thanks to an impressive signing bonus, Matt Stafford earned a career high of $51.1 million for the 2017 season alone. Prior to 2017, the quarterback signed a five-year $135 million contract, making his average annual salary — around $27 million — the highest in the NFL at the time.
8. Philip Rivers (QB) | $218.9 million
Across 16 seasons, Philip Rivers has been invited to eight Pro Bowls. Despite being drafted by the New York Giants in 2004, Rivers was traded for Eli Manning to the San Diego Chargers prior to the start of the season.
7. Aaron Rodgers (QB) | $219.0 million
Before the 2018 season kicked off, Aaron Rodgers signed a four-year contract extension that totaled $134 million. With this contract, he nabbed his highest single-season earnings at $66.9 million.
6. Matt Ryan (QB) | $223.5 million
Despite having no championship titles under his belt, Matt Ryan has raked in an impressive amount of dough throughout his career. His five-year, $103.8 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons was set to expire after the 2018 season, but, luckily, he signed one heck of an extension.
5. Ben Roethlisberger (QB) | $232.3 million
During his career, Ben Roethlisberger has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to an impressive three Super Bowl appearances. In his second season with the Steelers, he became the youngest QB to win a championship title when the Seattle Seahawks fell in Super Bowl XL.
4. Tom Brady (QB) | $235.2 million
Over 20 seasons, Tom Brady has become the face of the New England Patriots. And for good reason. The quarterback has an impressive 14 Pro Bowl appearances and six championship titles to his name. However, Brady has also sacrificed his paycheck for the good of his team.
3. Drew Brees (QB) | $244.7 million
Quarterback Drew Brees has racked up a championship title and 12 Pro Bowl invites over the course of his 19-season career. After playing with the San Diego Chargers for several seasons, Brees hit his stride with the New Orleans Saints, starting in 2006.
2. Peyton Manning (QB) | $248.7 million
Peyton Manning’s 18-season career led to 14 Pro Bowl invites and two championship titles — once with the Indianapolis Colts at Super Bowl XLI and once with the Denver Broncos at Super Bowl 50. Manning was also named NFL MVP five times throughout his career.
1. Eli Manning (QB) | $252.3 million
Over the course of 16 seasons, Eli Manning has garnered four Pro Bowl invites and nabbed two championship titles — Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, both with the New York Giants. In both Super Bowls, Manning beat fellow QB Tom Brady, so perhaps it’s not surprising he also beats Brady in terms of earnings.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Luck
Ahead of the 2011 NFL Draft — which the quarterback ended up not participating in — the Kansas City Star named Andrew Luck one of “the most-hyped amateurs in recent sports memory.” Selected first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck went on to lead the Indianapolis Colts to several playoff appearances and division titles.