As of 2011, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement set the salary cap to $120 million. Teams are required to spend, at a minimum, 88.8% of the cap in cash on player compensation. The players on this list take up a large chunk of that cap, ranging between 11% to 18% of the total team’s salary. Considering teams must maintain a 53-man roster, this is a substantial amount of the total team salary. Only the best players in the league command the best salaries. Here are the top ten highest paid players in the NFL:
New England Patriots
In Tom Brady’s 11 seasons as a starter, the New England Patriots have ended up competing in the Super Bowl in five of them and winning three of them. Throughout his career, Brady has won two Super Bowl MVP awards and has been selected to play in eight Pro Bowls. He currently holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single season with 50. Brady also helped set the record for the longest consecutive win streak in NFL history with 21 straight wins over two season and led the Patriots to the first undefeated regular season since the league switched to their current 16-game schedule. With all these accolades and awards, it is shouldn’t surprise anyone, the 35 year-old Tom Brady is the 1oth highest paid NFL player in the league with an annual salary of just over $14 million.
Larry Fitzgerald played for the University of Pittsburgh in college and was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2004 as the third overall pick. Fitzgerald has been selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and currently ranks fifth all-time in NFL history in receiving yards per game for a career with 76 yards per game. Fitzgerald also led the NFL in total number of receiving yards in 2008. Additionally, Fitzgerald also holds several NFL records including most touchdown reception in a postseason at seven, most receptions in a postseason with 30, most receiving yards in a postseason with 546, youngest player to ever record 700 catches, and the first player to reach 10,000 total receiving yards before his 30th birthday.
New York Giants
Younger brother of Peyton Manning, Eli manning is the eighth highest paid player in the NFL this year. Eli Manning was drafted by the San Diego Chargers as the number one overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft after attending college at the University of Mississippi. Almost immediately after being drafted Eli Manning was traded to the New York Giants. Since 2004, Manning has been named to the Pro Bowl team three times in 2008, 2011, and again in 2012. He has also won two Super Bowls and is only one of five quarterbacks in the history of the game to have received the honor of Super Bowl MVP twice. Eli has tied or set a number of NFL records including most passing yards in a single postseason with 1,219 yards in 2011, tied the record for the longest pass completion and touchdown at 99 yards, tied the record for the most game-winning drives in a season, and set the record for the most number of 4th-quarter passes in a single season.
Mario Williams is the highest paid defensive player in the NFL and subsequently the highest paid defensive end. Williams was selected as the number one draft pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. He continued to play for the Texans until he became a free agent and signed a $100 million contract with the Buffalo Bills during the 2012 offseason. Over the course of his career he was selected to appear in the Pro Bowl twice and was selected All-Pro twice as well. An interesting fact about Williams is he has his own breakfast cereal called “MariOs” in which the proceeds from the sales are donated to a Buffalo-based charity organization supporting children with cancer and their families.
After not being selected in the 2003 draft, the Dallas Cowboys signed Tony Romo from the free agency. After two seasons as a holder, Romo replaced the Cowboys’ previous quarterback Drew Bledsoe during a game against the New York Giants in the 2006 season. During his first three seasons as a starting quarterback, Romo led the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs and broke several Dallas Cowboy team records including the most number of games with at least 300 passing yards and three games with more than two touchdown passes. As a result he was selected for the Pro Bowl all three of those years from 2006 to 2009. On top of that, Romo also is contending for several NFL records including being the number five all-time highest career passing rating, and number six for all-time yards per attempt.
Calvin Johnson is the highest paid player in the NFL who isn’t a quarterback. This also makes him the highest paid wide receiver in the league. Calvin Johnson was drafted in 2007 by the Detroit Lions after playing college football at Georgia Tech. Johnson is described as possessing a rare combination of size, hands, speed, and strength making him one of the most athletic players in all of the NFL. Last season, Calvin Johnson managed to break Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards which had previously been set at 1,848. During that same game, Johnson also set the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard games with 10 or more receptions. He also tied Michael Irvin’s record for 100-yard games within a season at 11. Since his NFL debut he has been selected for the Pro Bowl three times and has led the NFL in receiving yards twice. All of these attributes make Calvin Johnson who he is and make him worth more than $18 million per year.
Peyton Manning was originally drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and is where he spent the majority of his career until he suffered a debilitating neck injury and missed the entire 2011 NFL season. After the season concluded, the Colts released him on March 7, 2012. Less than two weeks later he signed with the Denver Broncos. During Manning’s 15 seasons playing in the NFL he has made the Pro Bowl team 12 times, was on the First-team All-Pro team 6 times, was named the AP NFL MVP 4 times, has one one Super Bowl, and was named the Super Bowl MVP that year as well. On top of those accolades, Peyton Manning also holds a number of NFL records including the largest TD-INT differential at 201, the most seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards at 12, most games with a perfect passer rating in his career at 4, most consecutive games to open a career at 208, and most games with at least 400 passing yards and no interceptions at 4, among many others. Although up there in age, Peyton Manning is still a threat and has hopes to lead the Denver Broncos for several more seasons. The cost to acquire Manning, just over $19 million per year.
New Orleans Saints
The 34 year-old Drew Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft after playing college football at Purdue. Since then his career has been nothing short of spectacular. Over the course of his career, Brees has been selected to the Pro Bowl seven different times. He led the New Orleans Saints to win the Super Bowl in 2009 and was named the Super Bowl MVP that year. Brees holds many NFL records including being the only quarterback in NFL postseason history to reach 400+ yards passing in consecutive playoff games, the single-season record for most passing yards in a season by a quarterback at 5,746 yards, the most 300+ yard passing games in a season at 12, and the 2nd highest career completion percentage of all quarterbacks in NFL history. Although now beginning the final phase of his career, Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and his salary certainly indicates that.
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Joe Flacco as the 18th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. During his first year in the league, Flacco started all 16 regular season games and led the Ravens to two road win in the 2008-2009 playoffs making him the first rookie quarterback to ever win two playoff games in a row. Under the leadership of Flacco the Ravens have appeared in the playoffs every year, have one at least one playoff game, won the AFC North twice, appeared three times in the AFC Championship Game, and won Super Bowl XLVII in which he was named the MVP. During this last postseason which resulted in winning the Super Bowl, Flacco concluded a postseason run which tied Joe Montana’s single postseason record for 11 touchdown passes without an interception. Flacco generally doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves due to his low-key demeanor, but he was certainly recognized after winning the Super Bowl with his impressive $20 million salary.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2005 after attending the University of California at Berkeley. It wasn’t until 2008 when Rodgers earned the starting job in Green Bay. Since then he has appeared in the Pro Bowl on three occasions in 2009, 2011, and again in 2012. He also won the Super Bowl in 2011 and was named the Super Bowl MVP. In the 5 short years as an NFL starter he has really made a name for himself. To date he holds the highest career passing rating in NFL history at 104.9, the highest touchdown to interception ratio at 171 : 46, and the lowest career interception percentage at 1.7%. Without a doubt, he is arguably the best quarterback currently in the league. With stats like his, it is no surprise he is currently the highest paid player in the NFL.
Featured image: Flickr by Rajiv Patel